By Rochelle Rothwell, President and CEO, Rose Hill Center
Daily living amid the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone, from loneliness while sheltering in place to serious illness and death. As of May 17, there have been more than 51,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Michigan and tragically, 4,891 people have died in the state.
COVID-19 has caused a negative ripple effect beyond contracting the novel virus, including increased substance abuse, threat of higher suicide rates, spikes in calls to helplines and widespread unemployment.
In April, the federal government disaster distress hotline reported an increase by more than 1,000 percent with 20,000 inbound texts as compared to 1,790 texts in the same month last year.
Incidents of domestic violence also have risen as we shelter in place, making the home not a haven, but a place of fear for many. The Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, a statewide association for domestic violence shelters and services, reported 393 inbound contacts in March and the first half of April as compared to 189 in the same six-week timeframe last year.
Tragically, suicide rates also increase in times of severe distress. A sobering finding in a study from Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services is that suicides in Michigan could increase by 32 percent due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While everyone reacts differently to stress, none of us is immune to feeling the effects of social distancing, the threat of exposure and the uncertainty and safety concerns around reopening businesses, schools and communities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stress during an infectious disease outbreak can worsen mental health conditions and chronic health problems. Under these challenging circumstances, individuals experience a sense of worry and fear for one’s own health and the health of loved ones. And for many, social distancing has equaled social isolation.
We’ve all seen public service announcements encouraging us to check in on family and friends as we shelter in place. Whether staying home alone or not, it is common to feel anxiety, stress and sadness in these uncertain times. These have become everyday emotions shared in phone calls, Zoom gatherings and social media posts. This is not surprising considering nearly half of American adults say their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress about COVID-19, according to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Still, there have been a few positive outcomes of this pandemic: a newfound appreciation for friends, family and other support systems, and importantly, destigmatizing mental health.
In times of experiencing stress, communication is critical. Opening up to a close friend or family members enables others to help you through words of encouragement and support, listening to your concerns and challenges. And for those experiencing serious mental illness, talking with someone can provide reassurance in choosing to seek professional counseling or treatment programs.
For those suffering mental health issues, it can be terrifying to share one’s concerns and fears with others.
It is important to recognize the warning signs of mental illness. If you or a loved one are experiencing feelings of disconnection or unreality; difficulty with thoughts or processing information; changes in sleep, appetite or mood; odd or uncharacteristic behavior; lower functioning than usual; heightened sensitivity to sounds, sights or touch; or social withdrawal, it may be time to get mental health treatment. Many mental illnesses can be successfully controlled with medication and/or therapy.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is operating a statewide warmline from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily at 888-PEER-753 (888-733-7753) for residents living with persistent mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression and trauma. Individuals in crisis, including those considering suicide, are urged to call the Disaster Distress Helpline 24/7 at 800-985-5990 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 800-273-8255.
While empathy cannot be taught, it is something that can be inspired from our individual and collective experiences during this pandemic. We all need to step up by lending a hand and an ear to our neighbors near and far. For the health and well-being of everyone, it is incumbent upon each of us to have greater compassion for those suffering from mental illness.
Rochelle Rothwell is President and CEO of Rose Hill Center, a Holly, Mich.-based residential psychiatric treatment and rehabilitation facility offering a comprehensive range of services for adults with serious mental illness. For more info, visit www.rosehillcenter.org.