Mental Health Awareness, a common theme in May, correlates to the significant impact of COVID-19 throughout the world. Global Employee Health & Fitness, an added focus this month, is another touch-point that COVID-19 influences. Certainly, with each passing week of this pandemic, the level of effect for each of us changes, and is unique to our circumstances and mindset. Further, it is an evolving stressor that demands continual adjustments & adaptations. Let’s delve into what this looks like, while providing mental health resources for coping, and even thriving, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unique Adjustments & Responses
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it brought forth shock, fear, anxiety and a plethora of emotions. Each of us responded in different ways. Our individual situations were unique. Our support systems, prior life experiences & skill set influenced our reactions & mindset. Some were, and remain, gripped in fear. Others, scoffed at the validity of the models and the actions taken by leaders. Another sub-section falls somewhere in the middle, researching, educating themselves & implementing measures to remain safe while still carrying on with life.
Regardless of which sub-section we see ourselves within, our mental health is impacted. Our roles as parents, leaders, employees, neighbors, educators, family members and more are affected.
Whether it is an under-current of concern for the safety and well-being of our loved ones and ourselves, or mounting anxiety as we watch the number of deaths rise, the increasing numbers of businesses failing, students struggling, young adults worrying about their future, rising incidences of domestic violence, or our own economic foundation crumbling; COVID-19 is ravaging the mental health of individuals throughout our communities.
Family Life and COVID-19
We went from a society on the constant go, consulting our family calendars with an intensity that paralleled our busy work agendas. Coordinating school schedules & day care hours, juggling sports schedules, Scouts events & after-school enrichment classes was the norm. Fitting in second-jobs, extended family, church and civic responsibilities was needed. Balancing on-demand careers that frequently extended beyond the ’40 hour’ standard was a reality. While they brought their own stressors, many were often self-chosen. They were predictable and routine. We knew they brought rewards and enrichment to those we love and care about, or fit into our long-term goals. For most of us, they were worth it! We enjoyed this lifestyle and the frequent interactions with others.
We now balance demanding career obligations with distractions at home. Tasks including caring for children, supporting digital home-schooling, preparing or picking up lunches versus relying on in-school resources and/or having lunch with colleagues. Rather than chasing to the next youth game or event, families are spending extended time together – with no external outlet that offers a sometimes-needed break. We are missing our fitness work-outs that energized us & released stress. We are mourning the loss of our routines, and may even find ourselves returning to some not-so-good habits to pacify ourselves.
Or, for those among us who are essential workers, we have all of the stressors described above – yet may not have the ability to remain at home, and instead carry the same responsibilities for home-schooling, or finding trusted care-givers for our children, ensuring our aging parents are safe & cared for, but have the added worry of risking the health & safety of our family members, or ourselves, as we carry out our job duties.
Certainly, more time with family brings rich rewards, including the opportunity to really know one another, to engage in deeper conversations while sharing games and experiences we may not typically engage in together. It also establishes a different pace; it is an opportunity to embrace a ‘slower’ lifestyle, to reflect & explore interests, skills & opportunities time prevented previously.
Yet, it is likely that even with these secondary ‘positives’ the pandemic has brought, while one may be engaged in family time and enjoying it, the experience may be burdened with thoughts of worry & fear about health, finances or the future.
Can you relate to any of this? It seems likely that most of us are experiencing some level of influence on our family life – and thus, some impact to our mental health and our ability to cope.
As summer begins to unfold, parents are questioning how to fill in full-day schedules that offer their children learning, enrichment, fun, and interactions – while still working and managing their careers and businesses. Summers in the past could be challenging to balance it all – but then there were summer camps, swimming lessons, sports practices, reading programs at the local library, and so many more community opportunities. This summer, those options are much more limited, or are no longer available. These types of challenges impact mental wellness!
Career Impact and Our Health
What is the mental health impact of COVID-19 in relation to our careers? Many employees and business owners have transitioned into working from home. For some, it has been seamless and is welcomed. A recent (small sample & unscientific) poll showed over 40% of employees prefer a home office, and even if offered a pay decrease, would choose to continue working from home.
Yet, approximately 60% of individuals do not like working from home and want to return to an office or out-of-home location. For some, this may be related to personality and a need to be around others to feel energized and engaged. For others, it may be difficult to remain focused, and the distractions of laundry, a messy environment or keeping an eye on the neighbors proves to be too challenging to ignore.
Another variable may be the environment itself. Having a designated office that offers privacy, the correct ergonomics for comfort and focus, or the proper equipment including a reliable and quick wi-fi connection are elements of influence.
How does this relate to mental health?
We need to consider the number of persons who are feeling some measure of internal conflict (even guilt) that they would rather have their children at a day care or in school, productively engaged & socializing; allowing the parent(s) to go into the office versus remaining home with their family. There is no judgement in this statement. Merely, it is an observation after talking with parents for whom this is a reality.
Similarly, there is the added stressor, for some, of trying to fully work their salaried hours and work with creativity and productivity – while still managing their essential role as a parent, care-giver, and at-home school ‘educator/coach.’ This is beyond challenging, especially with young children, and likely leaves very little, if any, time for self-care and personal release.
As businesses begin to re-open, there are new emotions added to the existing flux. Some may be uncomfortable returning to work, some will struggle with adapting to a new routine, while others face the conflicting emotions of a divided society. Specifically, some will be judged for wearing face masks, while others are equally judged for choosing to not wear a mask. Some will face massive anxiety about returning to work, yet battle this fear due to economic necessity. Others are losing their businesses, and struggling with depression, anger and a host of other emotions that are likely to include anxiety and fear of meeting financial commitments in conjunction with meeting their family’s needs.
Mental Health of Children & Young Adults
Children and mental health are paired as closely as peanut butter and jelly! Children are perceptive. They often feed off of others’ emotions. They take their cues from non-verbal expressions, body stance and actions, verbal tone and volume – often long before they understand word meaning.
A significant example of this was the falling of the Twin Towers in 2001.
The shock, horror and fear we struggled with as a country was staggering and felt for years. Imagine the emotions of those children that were personally affected, children that saw the TV footage, and children who observed family members struggle to cope. Even those shielded from the tragedy specifics still sensed the tension and had fear and anxiety.
Fast forward eighteen years – COVID-19 was sudden, un-wanted and has created tremendous limitations in the lives of children everywhere.
Routines, at an age when they are essential, were disrupted. For many, they are too young to understand what has changed or why; they just need to adapt. For others, they understand why; but are angry with the changes in their schooling, missing their friends and feelings of isolation. The ‘invincible’ young adults are not immune to worry & fear, yet have the conflicting emotions of typical teenagers who crave the experiences, interactions and rights-of-passage known to that age.
The struggles unique to each age group are also paired with seeing and hearing the fear, anger, and plethora of emotions from their loved ones, their friends, and the media reports. Mental health does not discriminate based on age! We all need coping mechanisms and resources that fit us and our unique needs and circumstances.
Mental Health Resources
Chances are great that you, or someone in your life, falls into one of the scenarios discussed above. Given the current isolation within our homes, the opportunity to vent with or otherwise share with others that we are struggling is missing. Less frequent interactions, and not seeing our friends or co-workers to check-in may be adversely affecting many among us.
There are also many individuals that already struggle with mental health challenges including anxiety, depression, psychosis, bi-polar disorder, and many others. When you add in a world-wide pandemic, it is apt to have an adverse impact for many!
What Can We Do to Cope with Mental Health and COVID-19 Challenges?
Fortunately, we live in a society ripe with resources! We have at our disposal many valuable supports, both nationally and within Minnesota. We simply need to know how to access them, and then make the effort to do so; or for those with loved ones struggling, attempt to help them connect with available options.
A list of eight websites offering screening assessments, support groups, crisis lines, information and other relief is provided below to get you started.
- Mental Health America. Mental Health And COVID-19 – Information And Resources addressing a huge array of topics from mental health for disease outbreaks to financial, tools and apps, crisis resources, webinars and workshops and more! They offer specific topics relating to parents, providers, first responders, care-givers, older adults, domestic violence; there are many others, likely to fit most needs.
- Mental Health Screening Tool Mental Health America tool that offers 15 total screenings for caregivers, youth, addiction, work health and more! This resource appears to offer significant value, and includes common mental health screenings including depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety, post-partum depression, psychosis and others.
- Video Resource: Clinical Psychologist Shares Mental Health Resources to Cope During DIfficult Times Dr. Meryl Dorf discusses and recommends 3 strategies that we can all implement.
- 60 Digital Resources for Mental Health
- Minnesota Statewide Mental Health Resources Includes peer support groups, nurse discussion and first responder support for COVID-19. It also includes a link to the Mental Health America screening tool.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness – Minnesota Offering education, support, advocacy and events. A wealth of information is available on this page.
- MentalHealth.gov Resources on what to look for in terms of varied diagnoses, how to talk about it, and how to get help.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – A National Helpline available 365 days, 24/7 available for treatment, referral and information. This page provides information on suicide prevention, living with a mental illness, support for families and more!
Mental Health continues to carry a stigma and it falls upon all of us to eradicate it so that the 43.8 million Americans (NAMI) that experience mental illness in any given year do not hesitate to reach out and get help. The resources are available and are as close as our nearest keyboard, monitor or telephone. Let’s make it our united effort to increase public awareness, just as we are working to eradicate the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last month we addressed Stress Awareness and the suggestions we covered are equally applicable to coping with mental health challenges. We discussed the impact of mindfulness and offered links to several helpful resources and techniques. You can check that out here: Stress Awareness: The Value of Being Mindful and Using Proactive Techniques
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How is COVID-19 impacting your life? Do you agree or disagree with the correlations to mental health discussed in this article? We would love hearing more about your observations and experiences as we continue adapting and adjusting to the Coronavirus pandemic. We welcome your comments below.