With new concepts such as social distancing, quarantine and shelter in place, citizens are at risk for anxiety, depression and extreme levels of stress as the number of positive COVID-19 cases and potential associated deaths rise.
“This is a normal response to a public health crisis like this. Although there are common stressors to us all, the pandemic affects each of us differently. People without a history may feel increased stress and anxiety. Those individuals who live with a mental health condition may experience increased symptoms with the increased stressors,” said Maggie Luo, assistant director of NAMI NJ (National Alliance on Mental Illness), which is headquartered in North Brunswick.
While social distancing is a necessary measure of precaution, social distancing does not need to mean social isolation, Luo said.
“In times like this, it is even more important to reach out to our support network – family, friends, colleagues, religious groups, etc – via phone calls, social media and virtual conferencing platforms. People who are dealing with a mental health condition are encouraged to reach out to their mental health providers and explore telehealth options,” she said.
The NAMI Family Support Group is a 60-minute support group for adult friends and family members, age 18 and older, of people with mental health conditions. Meetings will be at noon on Tuesdays and 7 p.m. on Wednesdays.
The NAMI Connection Recovery Support Group is a 60-minute support group for adults, age 18 and older, with a mental health condition. Meetings will be at noon and 7 p.m. on Wednesdays.
Meetings begin the week of March 23. Attendance is limited to 12 people per meeting, first come, first served. If demand is high, there could be more sessions added.
“Online meetings are an effective and timely way to reduce social isolation and increase support when in-person meetings are not available. Although online support has its own challenges, NAMI organizations across the country and NAMI NJ are striving to continue serving families affected by mental illness in creative ways,” Luo said. “The groups will be high fidelity NAMI support groups, each led by two certified facilitators, using the signature programs’ agenda, group guidelines, principles of support, and stages of emotional response. We put a lot of thought into the privacy and safety of our members and the community. Our priority is to continue to provide education and support to individuals and families during this health crisis.”
Outside of meetings, there are activities residents can partake in when they are home, especially if they are alone.
“If someone is home alone, reach out to others. Just because you’re alone in your home does not mean you are alone in life. Call friends, FaceTime family. We are encouraging neighbors to check in on each other. You can find online communities through Facebook, or online support groups. NAMI NJ has started online support groups, and there are a number of online resources that provide support,” Luo said.
Structure and routine may be helpful for people with mental health vulnerabilities, especially during times of uncertainty, Luo said.
“We encourage you to maintain a regular routine with the work hours that are usually worked, including keeping up with morning rituals. Dressing in regular work attire and taking regular breaks, including lunch time, may also be helpful,” she said.
However, when feelings of anxiety or depression do arise, NAMI National suggests remembering that knowledge is power.
“Understanding the factors that affect a person’s immune response to COVID-19 will matter as much as, or more than, understanding the virus. Poor lung health caused by smoking, lack of adequate health care, suppressed immune systems, and/or populations particularly susceptible to infectious diseases, such as the elderly, have been particularly affected by COVID-19,” she said. “Don’t accept everything you read or hear. Look beyond rhetoric and arm yourself with information. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides information and frequent updates on the COVID-19’s spread, severity, risk assessment, etc. To subscribe to the CDC’s email and text message service, visit CDC Subscription Service.”
She also said to get your emotional support system in place.
“Maintain familiar routines in daily life as much as possible; take care of your basic needs and employ helpful coping strategies: rest during work or between shifts, eat healthy food and engage in physical activity. Stay connected with others and maintain your social networks. Have the emails and phone numbers of close friends and family at your fingertips. Stay connected via email, social media, video conference and telephone. Participate in a free online support group. … Contact the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990 that provides 24/7, 365-day-a-year crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters. Have the number of several Warmlines (emotional support hotlines) at your fingertips. Call the NAMI HelpLine at 800-950-NAMI (6264) Monday through Friday, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. for mental health resources,” she said.
In addition, for anyone who is worried about access to prescribed medications, patients can ask their health care provider for 90-day supplies instead of a 60- or 30-day supply, Luo said. If this is not possible, refill medications as soon as they are allowed.
For more information, visit nami.org/About-NAMI/NAMI-News/2020/NAMI-Updates-on-the-Coronavirus
“Even in times like these, you are never alone,” NAMI Executive Director Meredith Blount said.