This Mental Health Matters was written by Josh Whitelaw, School-based Therapeutic Behavioral Services (TBS), Ravenwood Health

The Coronavirus Pandemic is an experience that no one on this Earth has ever had the misfortune to come across. We are in the midst of a remarkable point in human history. We have never seen such an unprecedented pandemic, and unfortunately it does not stop there. Just as there are side effects to the actual illness there are also side effects to the pandemic situation. We have seen economic hardship, social isolation, lack of motivation, and extreme adaptations taken just to live a normal life. I used to leave the house thinking, “do I have my wallet, my phone, my keys?” Now I leave with a checklist of, “do I have my wallet, my phone, my keys, my mask, my gloves, my hand sanitizer and my backup mask?” Anyone else feel like they’re bringing their airline carry-on bag with them into the car?

Let’s not forget the ambiguity around the situation, which has made it that much more difficult for us all to attempt any sort of coping strategies for ourselves or others. How are we supposed to take care of ourselves when the information on hand changes daily?

In short, the coronavirus pandemic, and the “symptoms” of it, can be called stressors. Stressors, whether defined or undefined, affect everyone in their own individual and unique ways. In addition, stressors are either positive or negative, but our perception of the stressor is what gives meaning to it. For an example, a broken leg, could at first be perceived to be a negative stressor. How are you going to work? How are you going to grocery shop, or cook for that matter? Simple tasks, like those when getting ready in the morning, will now have to be evaluated and adapted. However, taking a deep breath, counting to ten, you can see the positives start to shine in your mind. You may now have to work from home, which will be a struggle, but could give you a much needed break from a long commute, therefore allowing you to catch up on a little bit of sleep. You may now have more time to spend with those that you love. Maybe friends or family are offering to help take care of you and as vulnerable as that can be, you can see how it will build you relationship with him or her. Building those positive perceptions into every day struggles is just one thing that helps us utilize a more positive perception.

However, the issue with this particular stressor is that it is incredibly hard to view the pandemic in any positive light. Our minds are filled with statistics of death and infection rates. We see hurt and broken people who are living through hard stress that this virus has caused or have lost loved ones in a battle with COVID. We need to collectively understand that we all are going through this in our own personal headspace. Some of us will be able to carry on with our lives with our “essential jobs,” while others will lose their income because they had to be let go. Some of us will be able to come out of this having never gotten sick, while others will have to say goodbye to their loved ones. No matter what your situation, we need to recognize one thing: all of us are being mentally affected by this virus.

Keeping this in mind, I find it to be of the upmost importance to continue last month’s nationally recognized conversation of Suicide Awareness. The recent pandemic has sparked research throughout the nation in the hopes that we may be proactive in suicide prevention. I would like to point out some of the suicide warning signs and ways to cope with negative feelings. This is one of the hardest topics to discuss but increasing awareness can build your confidence in offering your help to another, or, maybe, increase your confidence to ask for help when you need it.

Suicide Warning Signs-

Talking about:
• Killing themselves
• Hopelessness
• Having no reason to live
• Feeling trapped
• Feeling lost

Behavior:
• Increased use of drugs or alcohol
• Looking, or searching, for ways to end their lives
• Isolating themselves
• Withdrawing from friends or activities
• Visiting or calling people to say goodbye

Mood:
• Depression
• Anxiety
• Loss of interest
• Irritability
• Relief/Sudden Improvement

Ways to Cope:

• Take care of your emotional health – this may seem a given, but the pandemic has made this an increasingly difficult feat to pursue. Take the time to do the things that you love and make you happy. Seek out professional help if you see yourself or someone you know in these warning signs.

• Take breaks from the news – there are sometimes that I will read the newspaper or watch TV and have to just take a break to mentally recharge myself. Remember, the news reports what is given to them and unfortunately in our politically charged climate, the news leans into drama. Take time to touch base with reality. If the news makes you feel anxious, go outside and practice centering yourself. Try this activity whenever you feel anxious: name 5 things you can see, touch and hear.

• Take care of your body – Your body and mind are so interconnected that scientist nowadays still have no idea of all the wonderful and intricate happenings that go on just inside of us. Taking care of yourself by going on a daily walk or creating a meal plan with another person are just a couple of ways that you can enjoy better physical and mental health.

• Connect with others – Connection is key. Meet with your friends and family and enjoy their company. If you have a significant other, I highly recommend seeking one another’s love language and meeting those for each other. Not only will it yield great conversation and memories, but your mind will learn to love and be loved. Remember, if you notice one of your friends or loved ones starting to withdrawal, take the time to connect with them and check on how they are doing.

We are all going through this historical time in our own ways, but we are going through it together. If you or a loved one is displaying the warning signs of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline listed below this paragraph. I will leave you with the words that my boss constantly speaks to me and the other workers of our company: Self-care is a requirement, not a luxury.

24/7/365 local COPELINE: 440-285-5665
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

Josh is currently reading: The Mind-Gut Connection: How the hidden conversation within our bodies impacts our mood, our choices, and our overall health.

References:
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html
https://www.apa.org/advocacy/suicide-prevention
https://afsp.org/risk-factors-and-warning-signs