The longer the social isolation and distancing go on, the more the mental health toll will increase. Vulnerable people, removed from their routines and much of their support networks, are cut off from in-person interaction with loved ones, friends, and even neighbors. And there’s no certain end date to this, furthering the stress and uncertainty of the situation. For those who live with mental illness, this is a troubling and difficult situation.
We have historical data to pull from on the effects of joblessness and despair on suicide rates—the Great Depression was a time of widespread hardship, pain, and mental health problems for far too many of our ancestors. And with this, the suicide rate rose, to 21.9 per 100,000 people. With the current rising rates of joblessness, our new public health crisis will be caring for those in our society in need of mental health care and treatment.
Suicide is unspeakably tragic, and it’s not the only concern we need to be aware of. Already there are memes and articles referencing the parallels between the deep-rooted fear over shortages and strict avoidance of waste that our great-grandparents struggled with and the obsessive cleaning and distancing that quickly is becoming entrenched routines for our generations.
The longer this pandemic stretches on, the more we are isolated from important human interactions. We’re adrift from routines, from the help that so many regularly access to stay safe and stable, like counseling and therapy, and even visits with clinicians are not the same. Telehealth is not a one-to-one stand in for office visits, leaving both care providers and patients with imperfect opportunities to problem solve and manage chronic conditions under current guidelines.
While it’s not a perfect substitute for in-person care, virtual visits and telehealth are important tools being offered to help offer care and stability to clients in need during this crisis. Online and distance services are constantly escalating, offering increasing opportunities to connect and cope with the uncertainty and stress of the daily reality of living through a modern pandemic.
Mental health experts are providing key guidance to help people navigate how to get through the current isolation and social distancing. There are some ways available to help us cope.
Stay in touch with your health care providers. Even if regular offices are closed to in-person visits, keep your physician updated on your condition through email, online messaging through your electronic records, phone visits, or virtual appointments. Being honest with them about how you are doing, what support you currently have, and what tools could be helpful are incredibly important.
Keep up with your medication. A disruption in routine can make taking things on a schedule difficult, but this is a time to find a temporary new routine. Medication is important, and taking is exactly as prescribed is vital right now.
Reach out for help. Even with the shut down of normal clinic operations, if you or someone you love is unsafe and actively suicidal, it is an emergency. COVID-19 does not lessen this emergency.
Organizations like the International OCD Foundation have published helpful reminders specifically tailored to those with OCD and anxiety, including concrete ways to deal with anxiety and reminders that we cannot control this situation, but we can move forward through it.
And we will move forward. One of the most important things we can do during this pandemic is to keep hope front and center, and remember that there is an end to this crisis. We might not know when, or exactly how soon this end comes, but there is hope and every sign that life will resume after this.
Policymakers must consider the human cost of every decision made around managing the current crisis, and that means protecting and providing for those with mental health concerns. No way forward as a society can be planned that forgets the most vulnerable among us. It should be unthinkable to forget those among us, suffering in their homes right now, away from the care that keeps them stable. Getting through this crisis together means getting through it in a way that protects all members of our society.
For crisis services in Canada, see here or call 833-456-4566. In America, call 800-273-8255.