Caring For Your Mental Health In The Midst Of A Pandemic

May 12, 2020

Jed Magen, MD

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and it shows up in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic when it seems difficult to concentrate on anything much. So why should we highlight mental health? Only because mental health is a cornerstone of health in general. For instance, depression and anxiety are the two most common disorders we see in the general population and both can create problems with living a healthy lifestyle. Let’s talk a little about anxiety: Anxiety is both an adaptation to danger and can be disabling. Anxiety can be adaptive when there are sudden and acute dangers. That rustling in grass might be a lion but almost always is just the wind. You better get ready to run every time though, because if it is a lion you will need to move fast. On the other hand, chronic anxiety is not something we handle well and it is worse when the danger is not something we cannot control very well. That is the exact situation we find ourselves in and as this goes on longer, people can get more anxious and less interested in a healthy range of activities. Depression and anxiety are also common responses to isolation. It turns out that people who have bigger social networks buffer stresses better than those who do not and now is a time when it is more difficult to connect with others.

That being the case, what can we all do to keep ourselves happier and productive? Everyone needs to take a minute for themselves. Spend a few minutes doing something you like, instead of something you need to do. Take a walk. Maybe take a walk in your backyard. If you don’t have one of those, go outside, even if it is for a few minutes. An important time for families is dinnertime. Some research shows that children who have a dinner with the family do better overall, so consider one time a day when everyone gets together. You may also want to consider the many ways we can now connect with multiple family members via online meeting and social network applications. These also give you a way of checking on other family members who may also be isolated. Or, pick up the phone and give them a call. 

For those who think they need some assistance, there are still ways to access help. Anyone who has thoughts about ending their life needs help immediately. Suicide hot lines or your community mental health center are a phone call away. Hospital emergency departments will be able to evaluate you and connect you with help. People who are having a difficult time due to being anxious or depressed can also call their local community mental health center or look on-line for therapists. Many therapists are now seeing people online and insurance will pay for this kind of therapy.

The Department of Psychiatry at MSU has extensive experience with telepsychiatry with such programs over the last 10 years. We have recently expanded our ability to seeing people via internet in their homes. Therapy and medication can be prescribed and paid for with your health insurance.

The world isn't what we would all like it to be right now, but by taking care of ourselves, we can make it better for all of us and for those around us.

Jed Magen, DO, MS, is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Michigan State University. He specializes in child psychiatry and the diagnosis and evaluation of children and adolescents with combined medical-psychiatric disorders and severe, complex psychiatric disorders.