Michigan Therapist Answers Your Questions About COVID-19 Mental Health
It's okay not to be okay right now - here's some advice from a local expert.
Are you feeling..."off" right now? Anxious? Not sure how to handle this pandemic? Johnathan Agius is a therapist at Agius Psychological Services in Fenton, and here are his answers to some questions that were submitted from our listeners:
1. What are some signs of anxiety and depression, for those who have never had it before?
Depression and anxiety manifest in a lot of ways, and both are going to be common responses to the stress of the current situation we are in. Anxiety can show up as both cognitive (thinking) symptoms and physical (body) symptoms. Common cognitive symptoms include increased anger or irritability (especially in those that aren't aware they are anxious, men especially), recurring thoughts and worry, dichotomous (black and white) thinking, catastrophizing, and playing "what-if" games in your head. Physical symptoms include increased heart rate and blood pressure, shallow and quick breathing, muscle tension, jaw clenching, headaches, gastrointestinal distress including nausea and diarrhea and lack of appetite.
It is important to note that you will see an overlap of some of the symptoms of anxiety and some of COVID-19's symptoms. Always be safer rather than sorry and follow CDC recommendations on what to do if you have the symptoms of COVID-19 and don't just assume it could be anxiety. Depression is more than just a sad mood and crying; it can be a lack of energy, a lack of interest in things, and unexplained increases in the amount of sleep or appetite, be it an increase or decrease. Irritability and frustration are also fairly common here too so this could explain why minor inconveniences are getting under someone's skin.
2. Do you have any advice for teachers who are trying to teach online and facing the possibility of not seeing their students again this year?
For teachers, it is important to recognize the emotional attachment they have with their students and recognize that this will feel a lot like the grief we experience with loss. Don't be afraid to talk about the hardship of that with loved ones, it is an understandable reaction. Students may also feel something similar due to this disruption and we should try to support both students and teachers in this.
3. If you are an essential worker, how do you talk to your kids about the virus and explain why you're at work?
It is important for parents to be authentic with their kids, but there are so many individual variables to consider with each case that it’s difficult to give an all-encompassing answer. Some will find that it is best to talk about their essential role (and associated risk) as their contribution to society. There is courage in continuing to work under these circumstances and it is okay to talk about that; in your child’s eyes, you’re already their hero.
4. What is your advice for people dealing with isolation issues?
Isolation issues are something that has been a common topic in therapy lately, and for good reason. My top suggestions are to create a schedule to follow and to stay connected. Have 4 predictable things you do each day, every day, at the same time as well as have the same wake-up and bedtime. The human mind likes structure so a routine is ideal for it.
Set times to contact people, use services like face time and skype to reach out to friends. Netflix has a party watch mode, lots of yoga studios and gyms are streaming their routines, and lots of people are using services like Discord to talk in groups of friends. I have even had people doing an interactive painting with twist parties, all online from their own homes. Now is a great time to try out a new hobby and there are a lot of people sharing instructional videos and streams of their hobbies.
5. How can you help kids deal with anxiety during this time?
Again, structure is important. Keep their minds occupied and keep a schedule for them. You don't have to be a parent of the year either, just give them predictability in their day and you will be doing right by your kids.
6. What can you do to help elderly relatives without physical contact right now?
Help elderly relatives by keeping them up to date in your life. Lots of phone calls and picture messaging or video messaging to help them feel connected. Take up a hobby with them and share in the experience with them. My grandfather is an avid gardener and he loves to hear about all the plants I am killing on my kitchen table.
7. Where can somebody get help without leaving the house?
Getting help has actually never been easier, as the government has lifted a lot of restrictions on providing teletherapy, and a lot of insurance companies have really stepped up in opening accessibility. Many are even waiving co-pays for teletherapy. As a result, most, therapists are providing teletherapy which you can take advantage of from your own home. Finding a therapist is pretty easy; a simple Google search or checking out Psychology Today will help you find a variety to choose from.
Another service, albeit one that isn't a replacement for therapy, is a crisis line. They can help when you're in a crisis state and don't know what to do and can help you find resources for a variety of services. You can reach your local one at 1-800-273-8255. Crisis Text Line is another great resource, especially one to share with teens that are struggling. They can be reached by texting HOME to 741741.
8. What advice would you give healthcare workers/first responders?
Nurses are on the front lines and often get very little debriefing. They need to take their mental health seriously and at the very least debrief at the end of every shift. If they can’t do so with colleagues, seek out a mental health professional. I have colleagues who are offering those services specifically for nurses because the need is so great. Friends and family of essential workers can do their part by offering emotional support and a healthy dose of patience. Remember, even heroes need help, no one should stand alone.
Johnathan can be reached by calling Agius Psychological Services at 810-288-6652.