Self-isolation, quarantine, social distancing – all terms which have recently had a profound impact on how we interact with others at work and in social settings; but what about how we interact with ourselves? The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience some degree of mental illness each year, with 1 in 25 experiencing serious mental illness. These conditions also affect children and young adults, with 1 in 6 U.S. youth, ages 6-17, experiencing a mental health condition each year. Even those numbers do not take into account the additional challenges social isolation places on such concerns as receiving adequate health care, assistance with transportation, or support from trusted individuals to help us get through the day. What happens when you have found a way to function in the world but most or all of those supports are removed? This is a reality of coping with a mental health condition – or mental illness- in the time of the Coronavirus pandemic.
May is Mental Health Awareness month. The mental health conditions most commonly diagnosed in our community include but are not limited to disorders such as anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, psychosis, and schizophrenia. These conditions are caused by many aspects of a person’s life including genetics, environment, and lifestyle. Biochemical imbalances – the chemistry that allows us to convert what we experience into how we react, feel, and create memories—are often the target of mental health treatments because of their importance in the brain.
What can you do if you have a diagnosed mental illness and are feeling it even more in the time of this COVID crisis? What can you do if you suspect you have mental health issues and need help? What if your friend or family member needs help? First, remember even in this crisis: You are not alone. Your doctors and mental health community are here to help.
Some common symptoms of new or worsening mental illness can include inability to function or perform daily tasks; extreme mood changes including strong feelings of irritability, anger or sadness; changes in sleeping or eating habits; “cloudy” thinking or problems concentrating; excessive worrying or fear; abuse of alcohol or drugs or thoughts of suicide. Each illness is different, but all deserve a caring professional’s attention. Call and make an appointment with your trusted health-care provider – your family medicine doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist – so you can get the support you need. Many conditions benefit from medication, talk therapy, or a combination. A plan can be made that works for you.
Do not despair. It is important to realize that mental illness does not mean you or your loved one are broken. It means your way of relating to and interacting with the world is different from others and has a deep impact on how you live your life. Don’t be afraid to talk about it with your loved ones and your health care provider. We are here to make you stronger and healthier. You are not alone.