The Morning Call
Mental health tools to help cope with COVID-19
A recent report from Mental Health America and the Surgo Foundation named Allentown and Reading among 13 American cities where citizens must cope with both high levels of vulnerability to the coronavirus and an elevated level of poor mental health.
As public health experts debate the likelihood of a “second wave” of COVID-19 infections, our mental health experts at
KidsPeace already are seeing another kind of second wave in our programs for struggling kids and adults.
Hospital in Orefield are surging; on a single day this month the facility had to turn away nearly
50 children referred to it, because we simply didn’t have room.
Dozens of Lehigh Valley and Monroe County residents and families in crisis are braving the pandemic to take advantage of free walk-in mental health assessments at KidsPeace’s outpatient offices in Allentown, Bethlehem and Mount Pocono.
And traffic to TeenCentral.com, our web-based therapeutic support resource for teens and youth, has doubled from a year ago — with literally hundreds of young people submitting questions and concerns to be addressed by the site’s counselors.
And yes, this increasing need is tied to COVID-19 — anxiety and depression over fears of contracting COVID-19 or having loved ones sickened, the pain of isolation and loneliness, the inability to cope or manage one’s emotions amid the overwhelming impact of the pandemic on every part of our lives.
As a community identified as vulnerable to mental health challenges, we
need to recognize this fact: Whether or not a new wave of physical infections is coming, the wave of mental health issues related to COVID-19 is already here.
So what can we do about it? At KidsPeace, we think the answer to that question may lie in heeding lessons of the pandemic’s early days.
Last spring we all learned the acronym PPE (personal protective equip
ment) — as well as the hard fact that we didn’t have enough of it on hand to meet the exploding demand. As a society, we were not prepared with the tools we needed to combat COVID-19, and many thousands of our citizens paid a tragic price for that failure.
But we can learn from that failure to address the mental health component of the pandemic.
In the spirit of PPE, we’ve assembled a series of recommendations we’re calling “MPE” — Mental health Protective Equipment. These tools can help individuals and families build resiliency and manage the stress of the pandemic. They include:
Good sleep and good nutrition: Healthy behaviors like keeping a regular sleeping routine, making sure to eat the right foods, and staying hydrated all have a demonstrated impact on your mental wellness.
Positive coping skills: Journaling, exercise and making time to be outdoors are excellent ways of relieving stress. Equally important is avoiding unhealthy coping activities like alcohol use, avoiding communications with others, or dwelling on negative self-image.
Limits on exposure to media: It’s easy to be overwhelmed by constant news updates and coverage on traditional and social media that can interfere with your efforts to remain focused on positive aspects. Don’t underestimate the possibility of vicarious trauma that can occur when you watch troublesome stories on the news over and over.
“Helping” relationships: The pandemic may have cut off your access to family or friends whohelp you remain grounded and mentally healthy; you need to make the effort to maintain those connections by phone, Zoomvideo conversations, texts — whatever works best for you. This is especially important for children and youth, who need the communication with their loved ones and trusted friends more than ever during this crisis.
Access to mental health care: If you are facing a crisis, recognize that there are resources available to you through insurance coverage, employee assistance programs, or outreach like the KidsPeace walk-in assessments and TeenCentral. com. Identifying these options ahead of time means you or a loved one can get help more quickly when needed.
Focusing on developing our own “stockpile” of MPEwill help us be better prepared not only as individuals, and not only for facing our own personal issues, but also for meeting the significant challenges our community will face resulting from COVID-19.