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Opinion: How to prioritize mental health during pandemic

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and in the time of the novel coronavirus pandemic, mental health has never mattered more.

The pandemic is exacting a significant toll on everyone. While many are grieving the loss of a loved one, others are experiencing extreme anxiety, job-related stress (in some cases, reduced hours or job loss), and social isolation.

In fact, in a study by Qualtrics, 2 out of 5 (or 41.6%) of respondents said that their mental health has declined since the coronavirus outbreak. The study also shows that changes of workplace and employment have significantly impacted people’s mental health, with unemployed individuals having the highest proportion of mental health declines followed by those with new working arrangements.

Thankfully, there are practical tools that we can all use to improve our mental health and increase resiliency. There are also ways that we can support our friends, family, and co-workers who are struggling.

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Month is #Tools2Thrive, as designated by Mental Health America. #Tools2Thrive explores what people can do daily to prioritize their mental health, build resiliency in the face of trauma, support others who are struggling, and work towards a path of recovery. This includes maintaining a healthy diet, exercising, monitoring your television intake and sleeping pattern, connecting with others through digital platforms, and eliminating toxic influences from your life.

Now, more than ever, it is also important for individuals to recognize their emotions and reach out if they need help. There are organizations located throughout New Jersey that specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of various mental illnesses, as well as offer support services. SERV Behavioral Health System Inc., headquartered in Ewing, is a private, not-for-profit behavioral healthcare organization that provides integrated services to children, youth, and adults who are coping with chronic mental illness, substance use disorder, or intellectual/developmental disabilities.

SERV has facilities in 11 counties in New Jersey and serves approximately 1,800 consumers a year. Our programs include a continuum of residential services, partial-care programs, and outpatient care focusing on individual needs. Through our work, we also address a multitude of social issues including homelessness, hunger, addiction recovery, senior care, diversity and tolerance and education.

The people we assist on a daily basis are your family, your friends, your neighbors and your children. They are the people in your community. Each day, we work to strengthen these individuals in an effort to help them live successfully in the community, maintain regular work, or further their education while they struggle to cope with a serious disability. We do this because we know that with the strengthening of each individual comes the strengthening of our community as a whole.

No doubt, the pandemic has sharply altered our lifestyles, and the importance of focusing on your mental health is paramount. With stay-at-home orders and quarantines still a part of everyday life, now is the time to set aside fears and stigmas of admitting you may have some issues that need to be addressed.

There are resources available for anyone who is feeling overwhelmed. You can text message HOME or SHARE to 741741 to reach a crisis counselor immediately. You can also call the state’s mental health hotline: 866-202-4357. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If we’ve learned anything from this crisis, it’s that we’re all in this together. We must pay attention to our emotional well-being and the well-being of those we care for as we cope with the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. This isn’t an option—it’s a necessity. Just as washing our hands and maintaining physical distance are necessary to lessen the impact of this crisis, so too is caring for our mental health and the mental health of those around us.

Regina Widdows
President and CEO
SERV Behavioral Health System, Inc.
Ewing

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