Managing and understanding coronavirus mental health concerns

Paying attention to mental health is equally important as maintaining good physical health. Courtesy of Kaiser Permanente Southern California
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As Santa Clarita Valley residents continue to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic, the number of perceived mental health issues has begun to rise. 

Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in both adults and children, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s website, and many local experts agree.

“There’s definitely a heightened level of anxiety and fear based off of everything that’s going on,” said Monica Dedhia, program manager of access, crisis and community engagement at the Child & Family Center. “We really are seeing the full spectrum of reactions on top of individuals that are already struggling with mental health and mental illness. This new layer of COVID-19 and the stress associated with that definitely adds to the challenges that our clients are facing.”

There are also a number of new stressors, such as unemployment, working from home, as well as kids being at home and distance learning on top of that. 

Lauren Budman, a doctoral-level trainee psychotherapist and doctor of clinical psychology student, also has seen a number of those stressors in her clients, who, not knowing what the future holds, feel depressed or overly stressed and anxious about the uncertainty.

“When the prescription is isolation, that’s a fairly dangerous proposition for some of these people that have already been through a certain amount of trauma, and I think we’ve all been through trauma in various different ways,” Santa Clarita resident and trauma expert Eric Christiansen said. “Situations like this really exacerbate this, and we don’t know why we become irritated or why we go to some of our less healthy coping mechanisms.” 

While attitudes range from people being in a panicked state to being somewhat numb to the situation, according to Dedhia, the current health concerns have taken a toll across the board.

Anabel Basulto, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California, says paying attention to your mental health amid this crisis is just as important as maintaining good physical health.

That being said, there are a number of things to keep in mind that can be useful in coping with the anxieties being felt. 

It’s normal to feel this way

All these feelings are completely normal, both Christiansen and Dedhia agree.

“It’s really (important to) normalize that it’s OK not to be OK right now — these are extraordinary times,” Dedhia said.

“Our community has had multiple traumas,” Christiansen added, referring to the Saugus High School shooting last November. “Now, we’re going through this other big worldwide trauma, and everybody’s reacting to it.” 

And, if you’re not being totally productive right now, that’s OK, too, Budman added. “This is something that’s unprecedented, (and) it’s OK to ride it out.”

Still, it’s important to remember that the situation we’re in right now is temporary, and though we may not know when things will get better, they will get better eventually, Basulto said.

Stay connected

“It’s so important to really try to keep some social normalcy by staying in contact with loved ones and friends,” Budman said. “Whether it’s by text, video chat, Facebook (or) whatever, stay in contact with people, because we are social beings and we need that social aspect in our lives.”

Christiansen agreed, adding that now is the time to be vulnerable by reaching out to your family and friends and asking for help if you’re feeling overwhelmed. 

“Be aware of your family, friends, neighbors and those around you, and reach out, not even just to ask for help, but to ask if they’re OK,” Christiansen said. “If they say they’re not OK, then just listen — that’s all you’ve got to do … because that’s probably the most powerful thing you can do.”

Verbalize how you are feeling, Basulto added. “Chances are you are not alone, and others are feeling the same.”

Seek help elsewhere

If you don’t feel comfortable reaching out to your loved ones, there are still a number of resources out there for you, including the Child & Family Center, which is remaining open. 

“We’re still providing services, and we adapted a telehealth service as well so that we’re able to interact virtually with our clients for those who either don’t feel comfortable coming into the office or if they’re showing any symptoms,” Dedhia said. “We’re also offering face-to-face services for those who pass the little health screening that we’re doing, so if we need to have more of an interactive therapeutic session, we can do that, as well.”

In addition, the center is boosting case management services in order to support families that have been furloughed or laid off, providing resources on unemployment and providing the most vulnerable with necessary supplies.

However, if you feel that you or a loved one may have life-threatening concerns or feelings, call 911 immediately, Budman added.

Keep a schedule

Developing some routine and structuring in your day is vital to your mental health, according to both Dedhia and Basulto.

“Try to keep the same weekly schedule of waking up and going to bed,” Basulto said in a prepared statement. “This will help your internal clock to stay the same, which will ease stress on your body.”

Check in with yourself

“It’s really difficult to be really present with yourself, especially when we’re dealing with heightened levels of anxiety, so do a self-check-in because sometimes we may have all these feelings but not necessarily identify what’s going on internally,” Dedhia said. 

Identifying those emotions and how they are impacting you physically, then looking to see what you may need to cut out or what you need to add in, can help to combat those feelings.

Avoid overconsumption

Recognize the overconsumption of negative coping skills, whether that be turning to drugs or alcohol or overconsuming social media, Budman, Dedhia and Basulto agreed.

Instead, find something else to fill your time, such as a hobby or exercise, as when you exercise, your body releases endorphins.

The Child & Family Center is located at 21545 Centre Pointe Parkway in Santa Clarita. For more information, visit childfamilycenter.org or call 661-259-9439. 

To view all coronavirus-related stories, visit signalscv.com/category/news/coronavirus.

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