May is Mental Health Awareness Month and, in the middle of a global pandemic, taking the appropriate steps to attend to ourselves is even more crucial. In the blink of an eye, workplaces transitioned to a teleworking environment, school campuses closed and moved children to remote learning, and the public asked to remain at home to slow the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19.  

It’s been over two months since that transition, though many have successfully adapted to this new reality, others continue to struggle. The impact of the COVID-19 crisis goes far beyond our physical health. It has not only affected how we communicate and work, but it is also taking a toll on our mental health.  

A recent poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit organization that conducts independent surveys and research on national health issues, shows that 45 percent of Americans report a negative impact on their mental health related directly to the coronavirus crisis. The federal emergency disaster distress hotline reported a 1,000 percent increase in texts in April of this year compared to the same month last year. “Sadly, we are battling two pandemics at the same time. First, the COVID-19, which has caused this global shutdown. And this shutdown has increased the already underestimated mental health pandemic we were already struggling to deal with,” explains Lisa Elsinger, program manager of Wellness for Broward College. Elsinger shares a weekly newsletter every Wednesday college-wide with resources and useful tools for our physical and mental well-being. 

The Challenges We Face 

This pandemic caught everyone off guard. We’ve never seen anything like this in our lifetime, and we were not prepared for any of it. We were thrown into a state of chaos and having to figure out many things at once. And even if you were not already compromised and had any mental health issues before, it’s very difficult to avoid things like anxiety or stress,” says Elsinger. 

Groups that are suffering the most are those raising a family, especially with small children, says Elsinger. “It’s challenging for a three-year-old to understand that although their parent is at home, they may not be available to them 24/7,” she says. “Because of this, parents are suffering from stress and a tremendous sense of guilt that they are not properly caring for their families because they have not found a balance between work and family life. And without enough time to take care of that, self-care is not even on the minds of most people.” 

Among the symptoms that individuals may be experiencing is lack of sleep, overeating or undereating, tiredness, irritability, and lack of concentration.   

We Can Get Through it 

Despite the exceptional circumstances and the sense of chaos and uncertainty experienced, Elsinger explains that individuals are finding innovative solutions to cope. From holding family meetings to communicating with signs during working hours, people are finding ways to manage work and family life during lockdown.  

“From what I’ve heard from our Broward College employees, creating some kind of structure always seems to help,” Elsinger says. “For example, a lady created this system with her children where she puts up a sign on the back of her chair saying that she’s in a meeting, which means her children can leave her sticky notes with whatever they need so she can get to them when she’s done.”  

Elsinger says that creating a structure when possible is extremely helpful as it helps guarantee the family is sleeping and eating properly. There should be a wake-up, go-to-bed time set, and designated time for work and family life. “Even if the structure isn’t perfect, people and animals thrive on structure, that’s how our brains work best,” Elsinger explains. 

Other equally essential recommendations include staying hydrated, getting at least half-hour of exercise or other physical activity, standing outdoors to get fresh air daily, and stepping away from technology at some point during the day. 

Helpful Resources 

Many national and non-profit organizations dedicated to mental and behavioral health offer services to the public dealing with anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses. Most of their services are low-cost and some may even be free of charge. Among these organizations are Mental Health America, National Alliance on Mental illness, Care Resource, National Council for Behavioral Health, Better Help and Daily Strength. 

Broward College students and employees also have access to free counseling resources including the Seahawk Outreach Services (SOS) and the Student Assistance Program provided by Henderson Counseling. Broward College employees can receive free help through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at 1-888-371-1125. 211 Broward also has a free hotline for all Broward County residents at (954) 537-0211. 

If you are not a Broward College student or employee, and you or a loved one are experiencing hardship in dealing with the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255.