KANNAPOLIS — While taking care of your physical health during the novel coronavirus outbreak is of paramount importance, so is taking care of your mental health.
Social distancing, job loss, isolation from friends and family and a lack of everyday necessities are issues that have created a stranglehold over Cabarrus County residents in the past few weeks.
Making sure you monitor your viewing of news reports about the COVID-19 pandemic and limiting the reports you read online or in newspapers and magazines are some suggestions from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For residents with pre-existing mental health issues, the CDC also recommends continuing with your treatment and, if symptoms worsen, making sure to reach out to your mental health professional or primary doctor immediately.
Ericka Ellis-Stewart, director of Education and Advocacy at Mental Health America of Central Carolinas in Charlotte, said it is important for people to do a self-evaluation each day of how they are feeling mentally about all the changes due to COVID-19.
“Ask yourself, ‘Do I feel stressed, am I feeling depressed, am I feeling irritable,” she said.
Ellis-Stewart suggested using the Mental Health Screening Tools found at the Mental Health America of Central Carolinas website, https://www.mhacentralcarolinas.org/, under “Get Help.” The test allows you to test yourself for signs of depression, anxiety and other types of behavioral issues.
“We know most people are not going to ask for help, and the (Mental Health Screening Tools) is an excellent way for a person to check how they are coping,” Ellis-Stewart said.
Since so many families are quarantined together and so many parents are either working remotely or home due to recent layoffs, Ellis-Stewart said it is crucial for parents to mind their tone of voice when speaking to young children and teens, keep to a schedule and/or routine, and make daily exercise a part of your day.
“Allow your children to express their feeling openly to you about what is going on,” Ellis-Stewart said. “Allow your teenagers to talk to their friends and to keep those social lines open.”
Ellis-Stewart also said it is OK to feel some anxiety during this unprecedented time.
“Even people who have never experienced anxiety before may be experiencing (it) now, and that’s OK,” she said. “The important thing is to recognize it and get the help you need.”
When dealing with small children, Dr. Joy Granetz, a clinical neuropsychologist in Charlotte, said it is important to limit a child’s access to televised news about COVID-19.
“Kids will understandably have questions about the virus, and it is important to answer those questions honestly, but also in a developmentally appropriate manner,” said Granetz, who before living in Charlotte worked at the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where she performed neuropsychological assessments of wounded soldiers.
“It is best to focus on the things that you can control and what you are doing to be safe,” Granetz added. “Keep the dialogue open and be available to answer their questions as they arise. Validation, reflective listening and reassurance go a long way.”
Granetz further explained coping strategies parents can use to help their children not obsess about COVID-19 and how to live as normal a life as possible considering the circumstances.
“If there are concerns that a child is perseverating or hyperfocusing on coronavirus fears, parents can help them to ‘change the channel in their minds’ by getting them busy doing something else,” Granetz said. “Teaching kids how to self-soothe through mindfulness-based stress reduction can be helpful for many and will serve them well in the future.”
Dr. Nora Dennis, medical director at Albermarle-based Monarch, a nonprofit agency that specializes in mental health services, says staying calm is of the utmost importance.
“There are times when stress can help you think more clearly, but when you are too stressed, that can impact your ability to make good choices,” Dennis said.
Dennis also suggested adhering to guidelines presented by the CDC when dealing with an infectious outbreak of this magnitude. She noted that monitoring the depression and anxiety of not only yourself but family members is important, as is noticing changes in sleeping and eating patterns, mood swings, difficulty concentrating and the use of alcohol or illegal drugs as a coping mechanism.
“Knowing that you might get sick can be a motivator to take good care of your body and truly appreciate the state of health that you are in currently,” Dennis said.
Furthermore, Dennis couldn’t stress more the importance of remaining calm and checking in on the well-being of friends or family who are either high risk physically and/or emotionally.
“It is important to be a voice for positivity and calm,” Dennis said. “When you voice those sentiments, you can change the way your own mind is processing the information.”
Mental health professionals at Monarch can be reached at 866-272-7826 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and an after-hours nurse can be reached 24 hours, seven days a week.
Meanwhile, the National Alliance on Mental Illness urges residents in the Cabarrus County area who are currently seeing a mental health care provider to ask if they are offering appointments via telephone or via online chat, instead of seeing them in-person.
NAMI has also published online a Coronavirus Information and Resource Guide (https://nami.org/covid-19-guide), which deals with coping with anxiety related to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, coping strategies with isolation and feeling of loneliness, how to get medications while quarantined and information about obtaining medical services if you do not have health insurance.