Addressing mental health during the pandemic

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Shelby County Division of Community Services

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, do not be afraid to reach out. Shelby County and the state of Tennessee offer numerous services for those in need.

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The coronavirus pandemic has led to an unprecedented worldwide lockdown, causing global panic and uncertainty. Billions cannot go to school, work and social outings under strict stay-at-home orders, and many others have lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet. Given the uncertain nature of the virus, these disruptions in livelihood can take a significant toll on our mental health. As the virus drags on, its adverse effects will only get worse. 

How can the pandemic affect mental health? 

With normality brought to a startling halt, the future remains clouded with uncertainty. Naturally, this causes stress and worry, aggravating existing mental health problems or even causing new problems, such as anxiety or depression. 

“For people who have never had a mental health problem before, they may find that this stress exacerbates or starts a problem for them. Anxiety is one that comes up the most, or usually first… after that, because of isolation, or just the overwhelming nature of it, depression can easily come up pretty quickly, either following anxiety or just independently on its own,” Jakatae Jessup, a psychologist on the threat assessment team at the Pupil Services Center, said. 

When mental health is left unchecked, those afflicted often neglect their own needs, as well as the needs of others.

“Particularly in people who are depressed, they start to not pay attention to their environment, their hygiene, their basic self-wellness. And if you’re not looking after yourself, then you can’t really look after other people that you might be isolating with,” Julia Huckabee, White Station’s psychologist, said. 

How can we take care of our mental health? 

In times like these, it sometimes feels as if we have lost control over our lives. One of the best ways to combat this is to establish a daily routine and stick to it. 

“One of the reasons you’re anxious is because there’s a lot we don’t know,” Jessup said. “And building a routine, doing the same things every day, allows you to have a greater sense of control. Things are more predictable if you stick to a schedule.” 

Quarantine also offers ample time to refine existing skills, or better yet, teach ourselves new skills. There are a variety of free classes online where we can learn how to dance, cook, drawthe possibilities are endless. Taking up new hobbies will keep us occupied and reward us with a sense of accomplishment. 

Of course, we must stay active. In addition to all its health benefits, exercise causes our bodies to release chemicals called endorphins, which reduce pain and trigger feelings of pleasure, relieving stress. Journaling is also a great way to relieve stresssimply writing our thoughts down on paper can help us feel more organized, and being able to articulate our feelings into words allows us to better understand our situation and how to respond to it. Meditation is another great method to reduce stress, and there are many instructional videos online that can help us get started.

Moreover, while social distancing might be the new norm, that should not stop us from interacting with others. Video chatting with friends would be the safest option, but keep in mind it is possible to see our friends in person. We can easily take a walk or go to the park with friends while maintaining a distance of at least six feet. And, of course, simply talking face-to-face (at an appropriate distance!) is always a viable option. 

Finally, we must always maintain a positive outlook. Understand that although so much is out of our control, we do have control over the choices we make. The pandemic is temporaryif we take the reins over our own lives, we can emerge from this experience stronger and wiser. 

How to Get Help 

If you ever feel overwhelmed, do not hesitate to talk to a trusted friend or family member. If you feel that you do not have anyone you can readily turn to, our school social worker Erin Harrington can conduct telehealth sessions for any student at White Station who is having any kind of mental health problem. Finally, Shelby County has numerous helplines you can call for a variety of different services, including suicide prevention, sexual assault and domestic violence. Do not lose hopeyou are not alone.