Pandemic-Related Mental Health

“I haven’t been feeling good about my mental health”

This pandemic has upended millions of people’s lives. It’s okay to not be okay! We think it’s important to be able to understand the most common ways you might be feeling so you can better name how you are feeling, communicate with those around you, or reach out to a mental health professional should you decide to seek professional help.

Am I experiencing stress or anxiety?

Anxiety can manifest itself into different forms and its causes can vary. You may be experiencing an increase in anxiety symptoms with the pandemic as a lot of things are constantly changing and this can bring feelings of uncertainty.

Symptoms can look like:

  • Physical: Panic attacks, hot and cold flashes, racing heart, tightening of chest, quick breathing, restlessness, feeling tense/on edge.

  • Psychological: Excessive fear or worry, catastrophizing, obsessive thinking.

  • Behavioral: Avoidance of certain situations that cause anxiety, can have an impact on work/study performance and social life.

If you’re unsure if you’re feeling stressed or anxious, you can use Mental Health America’s screening tool.

You can also read the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)’s guide to anxiety and coronavirus, which suggests the following if you are having anxiety:

  • Manage how you consume information;

  • Follow healthy daily routines as much as possible;

  • Take care of yourself through exercise and movement;

  • Practice relaxing in the present moment;

  • Do meaningful things with your free time;

  • Stay connected with others and maintain your social networks.

Lastly, you can check out the Care for Your Coronavirus Anxiety website, which is specifically catered towards the coronavirus situation. It includes lots of resources and daily mantras and meditations.

Am I depressed?

Depression can look differently on everyone and vary on its intensity. Unfortunately, foster youth are 7 times as likely to have depression compared to others not in foster care. Having little to no physical contact with others and spending more time alone can amplify depressive symptoms. During these hard times it is important to recognize symptoms so you’ll be able to get support as soon as possible.

Symptoms can look like:

  • Mood: increased anxiety, loss of interest/pleasure in activities, guilt, hopelessness.

  • Behavior: restlessness, excessive crying, social isolation.

  • Sleep changes: excessive sleepiness, insomnia, trouble falling/staying asleep.

  • Whole body: loss of appetite, fatigue, weight loss/gain, excessive hunger.

  • Cognitive: lack of concentration, difficulty completing tasks, slowness in activity.

If you’re unsure if you’re feeling sad or depressed, you can use Mental Health America’s screening tool.

Am I experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD)?

Most foster youth suffer from PTSD or CPTSD. This makes sense because we are in care because of abuse, neglect, or abandonment. In fact, youth in care are twice as likely to be diagnosed with PTSD than U.S. veterans.

Trauma symptoms are often a reaction to an environment, behavior, thought, or memory. These triggers can be internal or external. Here are some of the things that can be triggers (see if you can spot the ones that are especially relevant to the COVID-19 pandemic!):

  • Unpredictability, sudden changes or transitions

  • Loss of control or feeling out of control

  • Sensory overload

  • Feeling vulnerable

  • Rejection, feeling abandoned

  • Loneliness or isolation

  • Confrontation

  • Feeling disrespected

  • Anxiety

  • Frustration

  • Memories

  • Muscle tension

  • Pain

  • Racing heartbeat

  • Sadness

The environment created by the pandemic has created a sense of unpredictability with a series of sudden changes and transitions, leaving some people feeling vulnerable, isolated, and out of control. It’s no wonder you might be experiencing symptoms such as:

  • Intrusive memories

  • Avoidance

  • Negative changes in thinking or mood

  • Changes in physical or emotional reactions

Emotional dysregulation is also common in those who suffer from PTSD or CPTSD. It’s when you feel unable to manage the intensity and duration of negative emotions such as fear, sadness, or anger. You can recognize if you’re having emotional dysregulation by tracking thought distortions. The same document also provides you with ten ways to untwist your thinking.

Am I experiencing loss or grief?

If you know someone who is sick or died from COVID-19, you may be experiencing loss and grief. Losing a loved one can be deeply painful, and you deserve support.

The types of gatherings and social experiences that many people would usually have after the death of a loved one are often not possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s important to seek alternative types of support. Many funeral homes and faith communities are offering new virtual ways to connect, and many local organizations offer grief support services:

  • COVID Grief Network provides free one-on-one grief support for young people who are grieving the illness or death of someone close to COVID-19.

  • Carson’s Village provides a wide range of free support services to help you navigate the sudden loss of a loved one.

  • Grief Share hosts free, in-person grief recovery support groups across the country.

I’ve recognized my mental health issues. What now?

If you are experiencing the following emergency warning signs:

Act now and:

  • Call 911;

  • Go to the nearest emergency room;

  • Call the sucidal hotline 1-800-273-8255;

While there is no quick fix when dealing with mental health issues, there are different ways to help you manage your symptoms. Everyone's healing looks differently, some options may work great, others may not. Here are a couple different options:

1. Self-soothing and self care:

Self-soothing includes all the ways a person manages their emotional dysregulation in the moment. This includes breathing techniques, grounding techniques, etc. Whereas self-care consists of all the longer, regular ways to maintain lower stress through time.

On-the-moment self-soothing techniques include:

  • Breathing exercises: These help regulate your breathing, causing your heart rate to slow down allowing your body and mind to become relaxed and de-stress. They can be done anywhere (room, car, outside). See Healthline’s 10 breathing techniques.

  • Grounding exercises: Grounding can help center you in the present moment. This practice can help distract you and reshift your focus away from unwanted memories, negative emotions or difficult thoughts. Healthline has 30 grounding techniques that are mental, physical, and soothing.

  • Relaxation exercises: These focus a bit more on your muscle and your physical body if your mental health issues manifest through aching or pain in your back, neck, or other parts of your body. Namely, progressive muscle relaxation is a form of therapy that involves tightening and relaxing your muscle groups, one at a time, in a specific pattern.

As for longer term self-care, different strategies work for different people. These may include:

  • Diet (eating regularly, limiting sugar and caffeine, etc.)

  • Rest and relaxation (sufficient sleep and stress-reducing activities)

  • Physical activity (exercise, walking, etc.)

  • Social contacts (keeping contact with family, friends, and acquaintances)

  • Support to others (offering support to others in addition to taking care of yourself)

Lastly, Point Source Youth published a toolkit on self-care in the time of COVID-19.

2. Reaching out to others:

Although going through a difficult time with your mental health can make it hard to ask for help, reaching out can be one of the most important steps towards feeling better. Start by identifying who in your support system (friend/family, mentor, therapist, social worker, etc.) you feel comfortable reaching out to.

If you already have a mental health provider, share how you’ve been feeling and explore different treatment options. If you want to see a mental health professional, there are a variety of resources at your disposal. Your agency might be able to connect you to a mental health professional and resources. You can also access mental health remotely using options like MindRight.

Additionally:

  • You can call or text the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) hotline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264),

  • The Crisis Text Line is here for you 24/7, whether you’re feeling anxious about a current situation or anything else. Text DS to 741741

  • The Relational Center is hosting a series of free online video chat support groups for coronavirus-related fears and anxiety.

Note: The information and materials on this website are intended for informational purposes only and are not intended to be treated as diagnostic instruments. You are encouraged to talk with your physician or healthcare provider about your symptoms and concerns.