As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on we’re all getting weary of the new normal which frequently entails isolation, fear, instability, depression and grief. The pandemic limits socialising, including being with loved ones outside our own households. However, this difficult time is almost certainly a crisis where our loved ones need us to be there for them the most.
Adults are experiencing mental health challenges during the pandemic
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistical study taken in late June 2020 showed 40% of American adults are experiencing adverse mental health conditions, including:
- Anxiety and depression: 31%
- Trauma/stressor-related disorder symptoms (TSRD): 26%
- Increased/started substance use: 13%
- Seriously considered suicide: 11%
While the above statistics are cause for alarm, they go up drastically depending on various factors.
Increased risk factors for mental and behavioural health problems
For instance, young adults aged 18–24 are experiencing more adverse consequences, as are essential workers such as medical professionals and grocery store cashiers. Low-income workers such as restaurant employees and store clerks who are suffering disproportionate financial instability and job loss are also experiencing depression, suicidality, and other mental health problems.
The number of people grieving the loss of a family member or loved one is growing as deaths from COVID-19 number over 500,000 in the US.
It helps to be aware of these factors and be observant about how a loved one is doing during the pandemic to monitor if they’re suffering symptoms of a mood or behavioral disorder. They’re likely to be during this ongoing crisis.
Minors are experiencing mental health challenges due to the pandemic
According to the CDC, children’s mental health visits to medical emergency departments (ED) increased between April and October of 2020 by 24% for minors under age 12 and 31% for minors between 12–17. This increase was in comparison to mental health visits to EDs in 2019.
It’s no wonder that kids are having trouble coping. Their childhoods have been interrupted so that they cannot attend school, socialize, or celebrate milestones they’ve looked forward to for years such as homecoming, senior prom, and even graduation.
Their parents may be unemployed, or maybe they’ve lost a family member or another loved one to Covid. Some children are even facing homelessness as the pandemic devastates the economy, causing those who can least afford to suffer financial loss the worst damages.
It isn’t hard to imagine some of the damaging effects this crisis can have on young people. Unfortunately, minors are still developing mentally, psychologically, physically and socially and any damages or disruptions to healthy development they suffer can cause a lifetime of harm.
Support your loved ones during this pandemic
Many people are obeying CDC guidelines to distance from those who are not in one’s immediate household. This is a good thing, however, there’s still a lot that we can do to ensure that our loved ones feel connected.
While texting is a great way for busy people to convey info without both people being available to talk at the same time, it’s an impersonal way to check in with someone. Scheduling actual phone calls, where you can listen, ask questions, and hold a conversation is a better way to check in with your loved ones and find out how they’re holding up.
Asking somebody ‘How are you?’ will often evoke a polite, automatic response like, ‘Fine.’ You can phrase your questions to be more specific to find out what’s really going on. You could even lead by stating that you’re having a few problems coping, then ask them how they’re feeling and what they’re doing to cope.
Video calls allow us to actually see if our loved ones look healthy, and they can see if we’re okay too. This can greatly reduce stress and worry for everybody. You can even schedule group video calls between family and friends who live far away.
Keep Zoom on during shared activities
Some people have gotten comfortable enough using Zoom and Facetime that they keep it on while playing video games or watching movies “together.” Others casually keep it on as they cook, enjoying the company of their friend. People can unwind, joke around, and stay connected with each other.
Invite loved ones over for dinner outdoors or meet at a park, the beach, or another outdoor venue. Be sure to keep the groups small, and stay masked and distanced.
Since it’s good to limit shopping trips you could take turns going to the store, with the one doing the shopping just dropping off the other’s goods on the porch along with a receipt. Then your loved one just sends you the money electronically via any one of multiple options. If they’re experiencing hard times, you just buy them what they need and forget about the money.
A few signs that your loved one may need help
If your loved one is sliding into depression or suicidal thoughts they may need your help to seek professional help. Signs that your loved one may need help include
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies
- Drastic weight gain/loss
- Change in sleep pattern (either sleeping more or less)
- Irritability or anger
- Engaging in reckless behavior such as gambling or substance abuse
You know your loved ones better than anybody. If somebody you are close to exhibits signs that indicate they may be in danger you can let them know they’re not alone and encourage them to seek professional help.
There are community resources for those that need a professional counselor. Substance abuse treatment is available during COVID-19, and more people than ever have been getting help.
The step of approaching your friend or loved one to express your concern about their well-being can be scary, but you can get help. Get the help of a counselor before you approach them and be amazed how much easier offering to help a loved one can be.
A behavioral health professional or interventionist will help communicate to them that it’s normal to struggle with a behavioral or mood disorder during the pandemic and there are many people who are going through the same thing. Also, many are getting help and improving their quality of life through therapeutic interactions.
Mike Williams is a California native who has worked in the recovery field for over 15 years. He is active in 12-Step programmes and is a frequent contributor to Present Moments Recovery.
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