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With the daily rising number of COVID-19 cases in the United States and the potential for a pandemic, it is imperative that we be aware, and make others aware, of the psychological or mental health implications to this public health crisis. Not only is it important to prevent panic from a psychological perspective, but also because panic can interrupt necessary containment and treatment efforts. Being proactive in addressing psychological impact through education, information and tips on coping is critical to prevent longer term psychological harm or post-traumatic stress reactions.
Below are some steps taken from the Kennedy Forum, that can be taken to lessen the psychological impact of the COVID-19 spread:Recognize the potential for fear surrounding COVID-19 to transform into widespread panic and hysteria, which in turn may undermine public health authorities’ resources and response.
Communicate clear information based on science and facts to avoid the spreading of misinformation, while recognizing how cultural differences among communities may impact understanding and response to public health messaging.
- Combat efforts to wrongly blame or link COVID-19 to already marginalized groups, which could perpetuate discrimination and deter people from seeking necessary testing or treatment.
- Address the general mental health consequences of COVID-19 during and beyond its tenure. Past studies conducted in Hong Kong following the SARS epidemic found widespread feelings of helplessness, mental health deterioration, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder among residents.
- Engagement of community mental health resources in case significant portions of the population are quarantined or isolated and therefore unable to receive in-person services. Special attention should be paid to older populations, those with developmental disabilities, and any other group with limited access to resources.
- Consider the needs of those with existing mental health conditions who may have heightened psychological distress over COVID-19 that can harm their health and well-being.
- If you feel that you or another could use extra mental health support, don’t be afraid to ask.
Helpful tools for coping include:
- Physical Self-Care. Be attentive to eating, sleeping, exercising and maintaining as normal of a daily routine as possible.
- Tending to your emotional health. Know that others are experiencing emotional reactions as well. Be patient with yourself and others. Spend time talking with others. Maintain connections with family and friends. Seek counseling as needed.
- Limit media exposure. Though important to stay informed, try to limit TV and print media which can exacerbate stress symptoms.
- Be attentive to others who may need extra support. If you are feeling well, pay attention to the needs of others who may need extra support. Signs of distress may show through changes in eating, sleeping, energy level and mood. Connect with others. Help connect others to counseling when needed.
The Behavioral Wellness Access Line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling 1-888-868-1649.