Mental Health in the Age of COVID-19

Face masked person

May 1 marks the 71st annual observation of Mental Health Month. According to nonprofit Mental Health America, “While 1 in 5 people will experience a mental illness during their lifetime, everyone faces challenges in life that can impact their mental health.”

Perhaps this has never been more accurate than in the age of COVID-19. These days, we are surrounded by illness and death, fearful of contracting the virus, concerned about our financial well-being and physically isolated from friends, family and colleagues. What’s more, we have no idea how long the current situation will last. Is it any wonder that many of us are finding it difficult to cope?

For people with disabilities and their families, the circumstances presented by the pandemic can be even more challenging. One reason is that people with disabilities are already more susceptible to mental illness. For example, Healthline reports that “depression and suicidal ideation are more likely among people with disabilities due to factors like abuse, isolation, and stressors related to poverty, among others.”

Many of these factors are magnified during the current crisis. What can you do to take care of your mental health or the mental health of your loved ones during this time? Here are some suggestions:

Maintain connections
With schools, community centers, and vocational programs closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many of the social avenues that individuals with disabilities typically enjoy are unavailable. But physical distance need not mean lack of connection. Many organizations continue to offer virtual classes, activities and tele-therapy sessions through Zoom, FaceTime or other virtual platforms. Though not as satisfying as in-person meetings, these opportunities for human connection are surprisingly comforting during this time.

Stick to a routine
People with intellectual disabilities and autism are especially sensitive to disruptions in their routines. Though we can’t pretend our lifestyles haven’t changed, keeping bedtimes, mealtimes, chores and other household activities as close to normal as possible will make life more predictable and less stressful for family members who crave consistency.

Practice self-care
Whether you’re living with disabilities and mental health challenges or caring for someone else with those challenges, it’s more important than ever to take good care of yourself. If at all possible, make sure you are eating healthy foods, getting adequate amounts of sleep, exercising regularly and reaching out to your networks.

Find something to look forward to
If you’re home with your family, come up with at least one event each day that’s a pick-me-up. Whether it’s a specially prepared meal, family game, story hour or movie night, anticipating something cheerful can help you get through this trying time. If you live alone, start a virtual book club, play online games with friends, or start a new hobby.

Take a break from the virus
It’s important to stay abreast of developments related to the coronavirus, but it’s arguably more important to protect your mental health. Listening to copious amounts of news coverage can be scary, depressing and sometimes enraging. Limit your news intake, and minimize COVID-related conversations, especially around children who may find them alarming.

Enjoy springtime
May is one of most beautiful months of the year, and enjoying flowers, warm breezes and sunshine go a long way toward improving our moods. When the weather’s good, spend time outdoors, take socially distant walks and appreciate the wonders of the natural world.

Ask for help
If life becomes overwhelming for you or your loved one, and particularly if you or your loved one has thoughts of hurting him or herself, don’t wait. Reach out to your therapist or contact one of these helplines:

SAMSHA: 1-800-985-5990, or text TalkWithUs to 66746
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

For COVID-19 related questions: Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.