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  • Hayoung (Talia) Cho & Kilin Tang

Mental Health During a Pandemic

Updated: 2 days ago

#MentalHealthMatters


Hotline Shortlist*:


National Suicide Prevention Hotline (NSPH): 1-800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): 1-(800)-950-6264 or text NAMI to 741741


*More information about these hotlines can be found later in our blog posts.


Introduction


During this unprecedented time stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, you may feel stressed and pressured from the sudden changes occurring in your daily life. Adhering to physical distancing guidelines of staying six feet apart from our friends, co-workers, and communities has inextricably isolated ourselves from those we love and cherish, contributing to increased feelings of loneliness—a struggle that more and more Americans are facing every year. In addition, the interruption of COVID-19 has taken a toll on our economy. With 21 million Americans currently unemployed, an increasing number of low-income families are struggling to pay the bills, leading to rising levels of stress and anxiety. Finally, the grief and suffering that one may feel from losing a loved one from COVID-19 (which has killed over 125,000 Americans) only serves to escalate the current mental health crisis our nation faces.


For the next two weeks, we will focus on mental health and how it has impacted the Greater Charlotte Area. The first week will be centered around different mental health disorders, how mental health has influenced communities, and ways to access professional support. The second week will emphasize methods to increase awareness and ways to cope with stress at home. We hope that our blogs will inform the communities in the Greater Charlotte Area, among many others, about the importance of mental health and how to mitigate some of the stress interrupting our daily lives. 


The Epidemic of Loneliness


Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States was already struggling with another health crisis—Cigna finds that 61% of Americans reported feeling lonely. Unfortunately, the loneliness epidemic is a symptom of a larger problem: 46.6 million Americans currently struggle with some sort of mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. 


While mandatory stay-at-home orders, quarantining, and physical distancing have helped in slowing the spread of the virus, they’ve had an unintended consequence: we have been forced to be secluded from our social circle. Although FaceTime and Zoom have increasingly been used as a way to connect with others, talking online in such an extensive manner can feel unusual, awkward, and even forceful in comparison to face-to-face interaction. As a result, a report by SocialPro finds that nearly half of all Americans feel more lonely than usual due to the isolation that the pandemic has caused. 


The effects of loneliness often go unreported, but they deserve our attention. The Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) reports that loneliness and social isolation is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. In fact, having poor social relationships gives one a 29% increase in the chance of receiving coronary heart disease and a 32% increase in the risk of stroke. 


Fortunately, there are ways to find fulfillment and fight the loneliness you may feel as a result of this unparalleled time, even from the comfort of your own home. We recommend adhering to a schedule, staying active, finding unique ways to connect with others, and partaking in an activity that gives you purpose. Read more in detail about the ways to combat the loneliness epidemic in next weeks’ blog post!


Common Mental Ailments During a Pandemic


We’ve also compiled a list of common mental health struggles that you may be going through during these difficult times, as well as ways to help in your fight against mental illness.


1. Depression Many of us have been forced to abandon our daily routines due to the lockdown, and these social disruptions may cause us to feel disoriented and have increased levels of stress. According to the Social Zeitgeber Theory, events that cause instability in one’s life (such as a pandemic) result in an interruption in our biological circadian rhythm, and may cause an escalation of cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that is secreted from our adrenal glands when we feel stressed, but prolonged levels of cortisol can cause depression. Learn more here.


Symptoms: changes in sleep or appetite, loss of concentration, energy, or interest, feelings of hopelessness, physical pain, or suicidal thoughts. 


Ways to relieve: plan out your day the night before, create to-do lists, set short/long term goals, keep yourself busy during your free time, connect with others, and be creative with your positive thoughts (Read about artists during the 1918 pandemic). 


2. Panic and Anxiety Disorders Panic and anxiety disorders, such as General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), induce chronic feelings of worry or panic that can last for hours. You may feel exhausted from worry, and may experience nausea, headaches, or sudden feelings of terror without warning. The fear of becoming infected with COVID-19 may also amplify unhealthy feelings of panic and stress due to worry for your family, friends, financial burdens, and a potential lack of food supplies.


Symptoms of Panic Disorder: feelings of impending doom, excessive sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, pounding heartbeat or feeling out of control. 


Symptoms of GAD: headaches and dizziness, fast or irregular heartbeats, muscle aches, excessive sweating, tiredness, or tension.  


Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder: speaking quietly, avoiding eye contact, or responding incompletely to questions.


Ways to relieve: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), video conferencing, sending emails, communicating through text or call, or connecting with others through social media.


3. Eating Disorders (ED) Eating disorders are often triggered by feelings of loneliness as well as increased levels of anxiety and depression. Given that quarantining and self isolation may easily cause you to experience any of the above emotions, the COVID-19 pandemic may indirectly trigger ED and cause severe disturbances to your eating habits. Learn more here.


Symptoms: preoccupation with weight & food intake (calories) & body shape, mood swings, anxiety, depression, loneliness, difficulty concentrating, or trouble sleeping.


Ways to Relieve: Psychotherapy (talk therapy, behavioral therapy), antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs, nutritional counseling, professional weight monitoring, National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Hotline: 1-800-931-2237


4. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Those affected by OCD are strongly influenced by their obsessive compulsions, such as excessively and repeatedly washing their hands or constantly watching the news. During the COVID-19 pandemic, you may show signs of extreme anxiety, such as a persistent fear of becoming contaminated, the fear of contaminating others, or the fear of not having enough supplies, leading you to panic buy and hoard necessities such as facemasks, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper. In addition, any flu-like symptoms such as a cough or a runny nose may cause you to immediately assume that you may have COVID-19, resulting in significant anxiety and stress. 


Symptoms: consistent panic shopping, frequently washing hands or advicing others to do so as well, frequently washing or disinfecting surfaces, or watching the news obsessively. 


Ways to relieve: try to only wash your hands for 20 seconds for only necessary situations such as after going outside, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), or online therapy. 


5. Insomnia Due to quarantines, many of us are getting less exercise and outdoor activity, which may lead to chronic sleeping problems. In an interview with Ethan Gorenstein, an Associate Professor of Behavioral Medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Gorenstein says that “Anxiety is a prime contributor to sleep difficulty…When people are anxious, their nervous systems are more activated, and an activated nervous system does not readily succumb to sleep. When anxious, people can find they take longer to fall asleep, or awaken frequently in the middle of the night, or experience more restless sleep.” This lack of sufficient sleep may worsen physical and mental issues—The Harvard Gazette finds that insomnia can correlate with other consequences such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, and depression.


Symptoms: difficulty falling asleep persistently, waking up too early or waking up during the night constantly, increased errors or accidents, and difficulty concentrating. 


Ways to relieve: avoid napping for longer than 20 minutes, try not to eat late night snacks, set a sleeping schedule and adhere to the routine, eat during regular meal times, and try to get sunlight from windows or from taking a walk. 


If you believe that you are experiencing any of these symptoms, make sure to read next week’s blogs, where we’ll give insight on how to deal with mental health issues and provide you with resources from non-profit organizations dedicated to ending the mental health crisis. 


Hotline Resources


Below is a list of free hotlines to contact if you are experiencing any type of illness. We would encourage you to save these numbers in your contacts and share these resources with your friends and family.


1. National Suicide Prevention Hotline (NSPH): 1-800-273-8255


The NSPH provides free and confidential support for those considering suicide and those in any sort of distress 24/7.


2. Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741


Within 5 minutes of texting HOME to the above number, the Crisis Text Line will put you in contact with a Crisis Counselor (a trained volunteer) that will provide you with support and put you in contact with the resources to deal with any crisis you are going through.


3. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): 1-(800)-950-6264 or text NAMI to 741741


The NAMI HelpLine is a free, nationwide service line that provides you with the information and resources to support those affected by mental health conditions, family members and caregivers, and mental health providers.


Stay safe out there and know that you are not alone!



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