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August 25, 2020

COVID-19 Pandemic Causes Unprecedented Stress — Help is Available

Written by Daniel Hauschild, Psy.D., HSPP

You are not alone!  As reported by Medpage Today, approximately one third of survey respondents reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, one fourth reported a trauma-related disorder, and more than one in ten had considered suicide.  These are serious symptoms that, if left unaddressed, could lead to disastrous outcomes.  These rates are much higher than what our population was generally experiencing prior to the pandemic. 

Do not hesitate to seek professional help!  If left to our own devices, symptoms can continue to worsen or we can turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, e.g., one person in eight reports using substances to cope with pandemic related stressors.  Experiencing increased anxiety and depression are normal reactions in the face of the significant stress that we are all facing secondary to financial strain, social unrest, personal isolation, loss, health problems, etc.  Even normal symptoms warrant treatment, however.

Do not fall into the trap of ignoring your mental health and expecting it to automatically take care of itself.  Seek out one of the many available resources and take care of your mental health, while continuing to guard your physical well-being by wearing masks, waiting 6-feet away, and washing your hands regularly.  Here are some examples of ways to seek help and support self-care:

  • Consult your medical provider to see if medication might be helpful temporarily for any of your symptoms
  • Check with your employer for EAP services, which often provide short-term counseling for free
  • Consult a local professional therapist, many of whom are offering virtual psychotherapy sessions by confidential video-conferencing
  • Check on-line for virtual meetings of support groups such as NAMI, AA, NA, etc.
  • Make note of suicide hotlines, chat resources, etc., so that you have these available if needed and can share them with others
    • Call 1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-784-2433 for phone-based support
    • Text HELLO to 741741 for text-based crisis service
  • Selectively reach out to trusted family or friends and share how your are doing
  • Find new ways to stay physically active
  • Fine creative ways to socialize with family and friends, while maintaining distance
  • Attend to physical needs with regular sleep and nutrition
  • Find ways to help others, which has powerful benefits to oneself as well

Be especially aware that minority populations, people with limited health and financial resources, and people with premorbid conditions are even more at risk both physically and mentally during this period.  If any of these categories apply to you, please give yourself permission to seek additional assistance.  If you are not in these categories, be aware and try to reach out to others and see if they could benefit from you running an errand for them, dropping something off on their doorstep, etc.  Sometimes people are too proud to ask but really could benefit from help.  At other times, the gesture itself is powerfully reassuring for people to find they aren’t alone and others are thinking of them, even if they don’t need something specific in the moment.

Although the statistics regarding COVID-19 stress are frightening, do not despair.  Negative outcomes are not inevitable.  If we utilize available resources for help and creatively problem solve to connect ourselves and others to necessary supports and healthy coping, we can not only survive these challenges but we can grow through the experiences and come out thriving more strongly on the other side.

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