Special to The Dallas Examiner
Mental health issues are often overlooked in a discussion of physical health and safety, according to the Texas Psychological Association. The association, which represents more than 1,000 practicing psychologists and graduate students in Texas, has practical advice and online resources for Texans to support their mental health amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Addressing risks to mental health should be an essential element in any organized community response to a public health crisis, including COVID-19,” said Bonny Gardner, Ph.D., M.P.H., a licensed psychologist and TPA member. “Fear, worry, and stress are a normal response to a perceived or real threat or when there is a need for rapid changes in our lives and new ways of coping. People may feel a loss of control over their lives, which research has shown can make them more vulnerable to mental health problems.”
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Texans are self-quarantining, home schooling and working from home. For many, the pandemic is causing unprecedented job losses, underemployment or other financial hardships.
“Psychologists are not immune from the stress that has been caused by the recent spikes in COVID-19 cases in Texas. But we are uniquely positioned to have research that demonstrates the kinds of activities that are helpful to try when we, our families, and our clients are feeling overwhelmed” added Megan Mooney, Ph.D., president of the TPA.
Fortunately, these are steps that all Texans can take to manage stress effectively and reduce the risk of more serious mental health problems. Some general recommendations for maintaining good emotional health during the pandemic include:
- Maintain social connections to others and to the larger community. Use phone, Zoom, social media, email, or old-fashioned letter writing.
- Stay informed about the impact of the virus but be sure that your sources of information are credible and legitimate. Limit watching the news about the virus to once or twice a day. Too much news coverage can lead to fear-inducing thinking.
- Establish a regular schedule for yourself, even if you’re not required to be anywhere. Get up, shower, get dressed, and have a plan for your day.
- Include exercise in every day. Exercise has repeatedly been shown in research to be about as effective as antidepressants in reducing depressive symptoms. Walking outside is great, if you can observe necessary precautions.
- Get enough sleep every night and have a firm bedtime. Sleep is essential to mental health and helps maintain physical health and the immune system.
- Engage in self-care. Do things you enjoy. There are endless opportunities for new pursuits: If you’re artistic, paint or draw. Learn a language, read, cook, and engage in woodworking or gardening, or any other activity you’ve thought might be fun. Research on depression has shown that enjoyable activities reduce depressive symptoms.
- Don’t rely on alcohol or recreational drugs to cope with stress or regulate your mood.
- Look for hopeful stories about people helping one another during the pandemic and contribute to volunteer efforts or charities if you can.
For ongoing concerns and more complex mental health issues, psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals are available by phone or teleconferencing as well as in person.
The association’s COVID-19 resource page, at https://www.texaspsyc.org/page/Covid19, offers up a wide range of online, in-person and telephone resources to support Texans’ mental health needs.
“Now more than ever, we need to focus on ways to stay connected as a community and remain hopeful in the face of the pandemic. Even when stress is overwhelming, there is no need to struggle alone,” Gardner said.
ADDITIONAL HELPFUL RESOURCES:
- Mental Health America has a screening tool at https://screening.mhanational.org/screening-tools.
- Your Primary Care physician is also a good resource for discussing your symptoms and deciding on whether to pursue specialized mental health care or whether medications may be helpful.
- Your insurance company or even Medicare can provide lists of mental health practitioners. You can also go online to websites such as the Texas Psychological Association or Psychology Today to find a mental health professional. You can also access services through your local mental health authority, which are designed to offer free or low-cost mental health services and support.
- Texas National Alliance for the Mental Illness – known as NAMI Texas – can steer you to resources and can be reached at 1-(800)-SUICIDE (784-2433) or 512-420-9810. Similarly, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, at 1-800-273-TALK is available 24 hours a day and can connect people with resources.
- Texas Health and Human Services Commission offers a mental health hotline: 1-833-986-1919.
- TPA is sponsoring a pro bono project, which offers up to 2 hours of free counseling by licensed psychologists.
- If domestic violence is an issue, there is the 24-hour National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
- For those with alcohol or other substance use difficulties, there are now online Alcoholics Anonymous groups at all hours of the day and evening, as well as other recovery groups. These services are free and often highly effective, in addition to professional treatment for these issues.