As I See It: Is mental health essential during the corona virus pandemic?

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By Elpidio R. Estioko

For the past six months, we have been hearing and talking about the corona virus COVID – 19 pandemic and how it damaged our lives. We talked of those being positive, deaths, PPEs, quarantine, lockdown, unemployed, EDD, stimulus support, stay home, social distancing, shelter in place, distance learning, vaccine, etc. but we never talked about mental health as an issue during the pandemic.

Coping with stress, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) website, is a major component of any outbreak such as COVID-19. It is a coping mechanism in navigating the new phenomenon which is called “new normal” after all 50 states in the US is in phases 1 and 2 of the 3-phase economic recovery program.

We struggle to cope up with increased stress, loss, financial anxiety, and other challenges brought about by the pandemic. We need to weather this storm of mental health issues as we move on to our new life recovering from corona virus. We need to be aware of the ways to cope up with stress or other mental health issues throughout the duration of the pandemic.

On Thursday, May 28, 2020, at 6:00 p.m. California District 25 Assembly member Kansen Chu and Supervisor Cindy Chavez are co-hosting a webinar or a virtual town hall via Zoom and/or Face Book or even using ones cell phone about a discussion on mental health during COVID-19 regarding mental health support or resources available. Anyone can join via Zoom: https://caasm.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_85xROMvTvWAipWN4WFsbw; Phone: 1-669-900-6833; Access code: 974-1572-3115; or watch live: https://www.facebook.com/AmKansenChu.

We need to understand that the outbreak of corona virus COVID-19 may be stressful for people. Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and can cause strong emotions in adults and children. So, we need to find ways to reduce stress, as prescribed by CDC.

Again, as per CDC, stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include: Fear and worry about one’s own health and the health of loved ones; changes in sleep or eating patterns; difficulty sleeping or concentrating; worsening of chronic health problems; worsening of mental health conditions; and increased use of alcoholtobacco, or other drugs.

We have to remember though that everyone reacts differently to stressful situations and responding to the outbreak can depend on ones background, the things that make them different from other people, and the community they live in. These are the considerations we need to understand and be aware of to be able to maintain our health and security during the pandemic.

Now, remember this: people who may respond more strongly to the stress of a crisis include older people and people with chronic diseases who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19; children and teens; people who are helping with the response to COVID-19, like doctors, other health care providers, and first responders.; and people who have mental health conditions including problems with substance use. No wonder, my daughter who is a nurse, a front liner, keeps on telling me, “Dad don’t go out, stay home, we can take care of your needs, etc…” As senior citizens with much illness we are vulnerable and more susceptible to getting the virus.

Taking care of oneself, friends, and family can help cope with stress and can also make the community stronger.

So, how to we cope up with stress? It includes taking breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media, and hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.

We need to take care of our body by taking deep breaths, stretching, meditating; trying to eat healthy, well-balanced meals; exercising  regularly, and enough sleep. Let’s make time to unwind and try to do some other activities we enjoy. Let us connect with others, talk with people we trust about our concerns and how we are feeling by telephone, email, mailing letters or cards, texting messages, video chat, and social media.

These are the facts and we should know them to help reduce stress. Understanding the risk to ourselves and people we care about can make an outbreak less stressful, the CDC website prescribes.

Let’s take care of our own emotional health and stay home if we are sick. Do not visit family or friends who are at greater risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Let’s use virtual communication to keep in touch to support we love.

As a community, what can we do? Community preparedness planning for COVID-19 should include older adults and people with disabilities, and the organizations that support them in their communities, must ensure their needs and are taken into consideration.

We may not know it but people coming out of quarantine feel differently. Emotional reactions to coming out of quarantine may include: Mixed emotions, including relief after quarantine; fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones; stress from the experience of monitoring yourself or being monitored by others for signs and symptoms of COVID-19; sadness, anger, or frustration because friends or loved ones have unfounded fears of contracting the disease from contact with you, even though you have been determined not to be contagious; guilt about not being able to perform normal work or parenting duties during quarantine; and other emotional or mental health changes.

There are things we can do to reduce secondary traumatic stress reactions. Let’s acknowledge that secondary traumatic stress can impact anyone helping families after a traumatic event’

While we are concerned about numbers, safety, unemployment, vaccines… we also need to worry about our mental health during the span of the pandemic.

We should be aware and conscious of our mental health status during the pandemic! It’s essential to our survival!

(ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and a multi-awarded journalist here in the US. For feedback, comments… please email the author at estiokoelpidio@gmail.com)

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