The stressors people typically adapt to in their daily lives have taken a sharper edge this year, thanks in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The demands of working from home for adults and distance learning for students, along with being isolated for those who live alone, have left many feeling overwhelmed, said Matt Brosi, Oklahoma State University Extension family science specialist.
“Being disconnected from normal resources and routines such as social gatherings, attending church or going to school leads to isolation, which can compound matters,” Brosi said. “With many adults being laid off or furloughed, financial stress also has tipped the scale further as people struggle to manage all of their bills.”
Unfortunately, some people engage in highly addictive and highly addictive coping mechanisms such as alcohol and drugs to combat these stressors. In addition, stress also affects interactions with families with domestic violence, and child abuse and neglect rates continue to rise.
“We’re reaching a stress pileup all-time high, so the importance of talking openly about mental health is more critical now than ever,” he said. “However, talking about mental health issues still carries a major stigma in our society, leaving many people feeling uneasy about addressing their own mental health needs, while others feel unsure in how to talk about them with those they care about.”
Brosi said a solid step toward removing the social stigma is to seek out information about mental health issues and have honest discussions with others. Understanding the basics of how depression, anxiety, suicide and substance abuse issues develop and affect individuals and families is critical to effective intervention. This understanding also plays a role in the implementation of prevention strategies.
“Unfortunately, the vast majority of folks who die by suicide – about 90% – have a mental health disorder that likely could be treatable, but went unrecognized and untreated,” he said.
Mental Health First Aid USA, a program operated by the nonprofit National Council for Behavioral Health, recommends using the acronym ALGEE when talking to others about mental health issues.
- A – Assess for risk of suicide.
- L – Listen non-judgmentally.
- G - Give reassurance and information.
- E – Encourage appropriate professional help.
- E – Encourage self-help and other support strategies.
“Oklahomans know the importance of resilience in the face of adversity. We’ve dealt with it time and time again. Now is the time to double down and support one another,” Brosi said. “Subtle ways to stay connected including calling to check on family and friends, dropping off a loaf of banana bread or cookies on your neighbor’s porch or offering to make a grocery store run for those who may not feel safe getting out. These simple ways of connecting also are great ways to check in on how others are holding up.”
Asking how others are dealing with the crisis creates a space that allows them to organize their thoughts about what is going on. This process can help others think more logically about the situation and whether their current response is lacking needed steps in more fully adapting to the crisis. Also, during this connecting time, ask people how they are coping and if they need support to deal with the stress.
“Helping others become more grounded in the present can be helpful. Sometimes, stress overload leaves people feeling chaotic, in despair and unable to resolve any of their problems effectively,” Brosi said. “Using proven mindfulness strategies to slow down one’s breathing and thinking about what they do have control over can be a first step toward more clearly thinking about available resources can be used to deal with the situation. It could be just enough to assist in calling a mental health professional for assistance, calling a lender to work out a payment plan or simply calling a trusted friend or clergy to just sit with them and listen.”
More COVID-19 information is available online from OSU Extension.