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Our View: Be mindful of mental health during coronavirus crisis and know you’re not alone

As the country continues to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, a second health crisis is quietly brewing beneath the surface. A mental health crisis.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and approximately 18% of adults in the U.S. suffer from some sort of metal illness, according to data from the nonprofit Mental Health America.

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That's before the novel coronavirus became front and center in our daily lives. Physical isolation of social distancing can lead to depression, and anxiety has been heightened as people now worry about themselves or their friends and family getting sick or dying from COVID-19, as well as concerns about their jobs and their bank accounts, which have been affected by shutdowns to slow the spread of the virus.

More than half of Americans — 56% — surveyed by the Kaiser Family Foundation in late April, reported that worry or stress related to the coronavirus outbreak has caused them to experience at least one negative effect on their mental health and well-being, such as problems with sleeping or eating, increased alcohol use, or worsening chronic conditions.

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Among frontline healthcare workers and their families, as well as those who have experienced income loss related to the pandemic, those numbers are even higher, hovering around 65%, according to the survey.

A national crisis hotline, run by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that provides counseling for people facing emotional stress, saw an approximately tenfold year-over-year increases in call volume the last few months.

Large-scale disasters are almost always accompanied by increases in depressions, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use disorder and other mental and behavioral disorders, according to a recent article in the “Journal of the American Medical Association” by Sandro Galea, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health. He predicted a similar “overflow of mental illness” caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

So what should and can we do about it?

For some people, it may be their first time dealing with a serious mental health crisis of their own, so knowing what resources are available is a good place to start.

According to the Carroll County Health Department website, the fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Among other ways, the fear and anxiety can manifest in changes in sleep or eating patterns, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, worsening of chronic health problems, and increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.

Among CCHD’s suggestions: Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media; take care of your body — try to exercise, eat healthy, get plenty of sleep and avoid alcohol and drugs — make time to unwind; connect with others.

The Mental Health Association of Maryland has a litany of resources available on its website, www.mhamd.org, including help for children, older adults and pregnant and new mother; as well as a specific section on coping during the coronavirus.

Additional information can be found at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website.

And if you or anyone you know throughout Maryland is experiencing a mental health emergency, you can call 2-1-1 and press 1 to connect with help, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

We know it’s not an easy time right now, and we’re all hoping things get back to normal soon. In the meantime, don’t forget to take care of yourself mentally and know, if you’re struggling, you’re not alone and there are lots of people ready to listen and help.

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