By Kari Bray / Snohomish Health District
Steps are being taken locally and statewide to allow more activities and businesses – as long as illness prevention measures are in place. However, the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order also is extended, and social distancing is expected to remain part of our lives for the foreseeable future.
Washingtonians should continue staying home except for essential work, errands and some outdoor recreation activities with appropriate social distancing. Even those who are back at work should be distancing from others as much as possible in the workplace.
This social distancing is taking a toll on many. Separation from family and friends, job loss, and the stress and emotional strain of life during a pandemic can have serious consequences for mental health.
Mental health and COVID-19
It is normal right now to feel scared, anxious, sad, angry, lonely, uncertain – a whole range of emotions are appropriate during this unprecedented time.
For some, the strain of the situation could contribute to crisis. If you or someone you care about is in crisis, help is available.
It is too soon to be able to reliably gather and evaluate Snohomish County-level data regarding lives lost to suicide during this pandemic. However, it’s crucial that we keep in mind the impact that COVID-19 and the measures to fight it are having on mental and emotional health.
There are things we all can do to help care for our own and others’ wellbeing.
It may help to focus on the things you can control. For some, that means taking individual steps to fight COVID-19. You cannot single-handedly stop this pandemic, but you can donate to your local food bank to help others in need or learn to sew cloth face covers for your family.
Others may find that sewing face covers is a little too close to the source of their stress. If that’s true for you, try finding other activities that give you a sense of confidence. We’ve heard that people are gardening, cooking or baking, catching up on cleaning or housework, journaling, doing crafts, scheduling regular video calls with loved ones, or taking long walks (while keeping your distance from people who aren’t part of your household). Turn attention to things you enjoy and are passionate about, and take advantage of sunny days and fresh air.
Be compassionate with others, too. A “thank you” to our essential workers is welcome – they, and you, are under a tremendous amount of stress. Take time to check in on your family, friends and neighbors by calling, texting, emailing or writing letters. Remind them that you care, and that physical distance doesn’t change how much they mean to you. Talk to them about your worries and fears, but make sure you leave room to talk about the good stuff, too.
A healthy diet, physical activity, and regular sleep schedule also can help with the emotional toll of this pandemic. Don’t be afraid to unplug for a while when all of the information (or misinformation) on the pandemic gets overwhelming.
Perhaps most importantly, don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you need it, or if you are worried about a loved one in need.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. People who have never called a crisis line may find themselves needing one right now, and that’s OK. Remember that our past experiences shape our reactions, and you may not feel the same way as others. That’s OK, too. Life isn’t normal right now. There is help.
Care Crisis Line: 800-584-3578 or 425-258-4357
Care Crisis Chat: www.imhurting.org
Disaster Distress Helpline: Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746.
The Disaster Distress Helpline provides crisis counseling and support for anyone in the U.S. experiencing distress or other behavioral health concerns related to any natural or human-caused disaster, including public health emergencies.
The Trevor Project: Call 1-866-488-7386 or text START to 678678. A national 24-hour, toll free confidential suicide hotline for LGBTQ youth.
Trans Lifeline: Dial 877-565-8860 for U.S. and 877-330-6366 for Canada. Trans Lifeline’s Hotline is a peer support service run by trans people, for trans and questioning callers.
Dial 2-1-1: If you need assistance finding food, paying for housing bills, accessing free childcare, or other essential services, visit 211.org or dial 211 to speak to someone who can help.
National Domestic Violence Hotline: For survivors who need support, call 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-799-7233 for TTY, or if you’re unable to speak safely, you can log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522.
Caregiver Help Desk: Call 855-227-3640. The Caregiver Action Network’s Care Support Team is staffed by caregiving experts, available 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET (11 a.m. to 10 p.m. local).
People with substance use disorders
We also know that this can be a particularly challenging time for people with opioid use disorder or other substance use disorders.
If you are using illicit or prescription drugs, there are resources available if you are interested in reducing or stopping use. Some in-person services may have been modified or temporarily suspended during the pandemic, but if you are struggling to find an in-person option for recovery support, there are increased remote options.
There have also been allowances made by the federal government and health plans to promote and reimburse telehealth services. This includes the ability for people to begin buprenorphine or Suboxone, new apps for peer coaches, and group therapy.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a helpful list of virtual recovery resources. These include online meeting options, virtual hang-outs or chats, and online trainings. Find the full list at www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/virtual-recovery-resources.pdf.
Here locally, resources and information are also available on our website at www.snohomishoverdoseprevention.com.
If you are using drugs or know someone who is, some tips to help prevent the spread of any illness, including COVID-19, are:
• Don’t share vapes, cigarettes, pipes, bong, straws, or any other supplies. Never share syringes. Note that the AIDS Outreach Project/Snohomish County Syringe Exchange has modified hours and is posting updates on its Facebook page.
• Designate a bio-bucket or other container for used items to avoid re-using contaminated ones.
• Wash hands or use hand sanitizer frequently, if water and soap or hand sanitizer are available. Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
• In an emergency situation, such as an overdose, do not be afraid to call 911 or seek urgent care. Emergency medical services and hospitals have taken steps to protect against the spread of COVID to other patients.
• Keep your space clean. Wipe down surfaces and supplies before and after use whenever possible.
• Keep distance from other people as much as you can. Being within six feet of other people increases the risk of spreading or getting the illness.
• If you take methadone/buprenorphine or have other regular medications, talk to your healthcare provider about the best way to make sure you don’t have disruptions in your doses. Doctors may have emergency plans in place, such as authorizing refills over the phone or conducting virtual “visits” online.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created new hardship and amplified existing challenges for people throughout Snohomish County. As much as we can be there for each other in spirit (even if we can’t be close physically), now is the time to do so.
For those who are not experiencing a struggle with mental health or substance use, it’s still a good idea to be aware of key resources like the crisis line or virtual recovery resources. You may be able to help someone else, and helping one another is going to be one of the most important pieces of getting through this.
For everyone who is struggling and everyone who is helping, we see you. We appreciate you. You matter.
The Public Health Essentials! blog highlights the work of the Snohomish Health District and shares health-related information and tips.