Sarah LoBisco, ND, IFCMP

Why We Need to Pay Attention to Mental Health During Crisis

Humans are adaptable. The current crisis has shown us this. It has presented the world with an opportunity to transform for the better.

Yet, the current situation has also presented many challenges.

In the past, humans have forced the environment to meet their own needs. Now, people are being forced to change with the circumstance. This ability to be resilient and cognitively flexible is being tested and stretched on a global scale.

One in five adults struggling with mental health conditions

For those already struggling with mental health conditions, an estimated one in five adults, the pandemic makes it more difficult to stay in balance. Besides the usual barriers to receiving appropriate care, the common methods for treatment are also not as readily available.

Unique concerns and adjustments for those with addictions and substance use disorders

There are also some unique concerns and adjustments for those with addictions and substance use disorders (SUDs). On one hand, virtual support from hotlines have become more readily available and unique peer connection through online groups have emerged. The downside; however, is that many of those struggling with SUDs rely on their in-person social connections during group meetings. These human interactions foster a sense of community and spirituality and encourage a sense of belonging. 

Additional strain on the practitioners

Finally, there is additional strain on the practitioners themselves. This is on top of coping with heightened stress and non-stop demands. (source, source, source, source, source) In some cases, healthcare providers attempts to ensure proper protection and fair compensation have been only received with reprimand and threats for their job security.

Concern for an Increase in Suicides Emerge

It has been reported that NYC has experienced a rise in calls to crisis lines and according to several news sources, other areas have also experienced an increase in attempts, threats, and numbers of suicide.

Recently, an article was published in Lancet Psychiatryby a group of global suicide experts. They called for “urgent” action to prevent the expected rise in people taking their own lives. The authors based their paper on historical trends in crises.

Due to the collapse of the economy, financial fallout, rising strains on personal relationships from living in close quarters, gun sale spikes, current trends, and the heightened domestic abuse and substance use that can occur, these specialists outlined several public health measures. As reported in Medscape, these include:

  • Clear care pathways for those who are suicidal
  • Remote or digital assessments for patients currently under the care of a mental health professional
  • Staff training to support new ways of working
  • Increased support for mental health helplines
  • Providing easily accessible grief counselling for those who have lost a loved one to the virus
  • Financial safety nets and labor market programs
  • Dissemination of evidence-based online interventions.

As of May 1st, Medscape announced that “several federal agencies and private sector groups have launched a national initiative that aims to prevent suicide and mental illness resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.”  These groups will coordinate actions, promote “evidence-informed best practices,” and spread hope and support at the community level.

Internationally Paying Attention to the Psychological Response to the Crisis

In March, the WHO published a special message for the general public, healthcare workers, and health facilities on how to support mental and psychological health during the crisis.

The guide offered the following tips for people:

  • Limit negative news that spurs anxiety.
  • Spread hopeful stories.
  • Ensure protection by following proper hygiene guidelines.
  • Give and take. Reach out yourself and offer support to others.

Also included in the guidelines is the acknowledgement that this disease is not subject to a specific ethnicity and that people with the virus deserve our support. This is very important to state, due to the risk of xenophobia. This is the fear or hatred of different ethnicities based on the belief that “they” “caused this.” Xenophobia is a very dangerous, cognitively inflexible mental stance that can lead to prejudice and violence.

Taking a Holistic Approach to Mental Health

Treating only on the level of the physical is not the solution at any time. Our emotions can impact our survival. It has been shown that one can literally die from a broken heart. Recently, an article in Townsend Letter reported:

Takotsubo syndrome is perhaps the most critical physical expression of this idea that emotions are felt in the heart phenomenon. Takotsubo is a life-threatening reaction to intensely strong emotions. When someone dies of a broken heart, this is not just a figure of speech; this is Takotsubo syndrome.

Furthermore, in a more recent study, researchers were able to map the increased health risks for people with mental health disorders. They found associations between heart disease and anxiety in women and an increase risk of gut and liver problems in men with substance abuse.

It makes you wonder if our nation’s poor cardiovascular disease outcomes may be linked to ignoring the emotional aspect. We also need to consider that the current virus can attack the heart, so we need to do everything we can, emotionally and physically, to keep our hearts in-tune.

Conclusion: Ensuring the Treatment is Not Worse than the Illness

We cannot separate the physical health from mental health. Every thought creates a biochemical response.

It has also been shown that perceived isolation is the number one risk factor associated with cardiovascular mortality. This makes it imperative that people continue to virtually reach out and stay connected in safe ways, physically distancing without social distancing.

In a recent interview with Robert Holden, PhD on the You Can Health Your Life Podcast, he stated that the first rule of medicine is that “your response to the illness or crisis shouldn’t be worse than the illness or crisis.”

His message was not one of being fearless, but rather of embracing our humanness, choosing love and kindness over fear. This takes practice, being mindful, and being real.

*Robert wrote an endorsement to my book, BreakFree Medicine (which is in need of an update to incorporate Health at Every Size.) He is one of the kindest and most genuine person I have been blessed to speak with.

In this swirling world where it appears that working at home has made marketing even more aggressive, it is refreshing to have an honest conversation on how we can all come together, not to perfect ourselves, but to truly be present in ourselves. When we do this, we are love.  

All of us need to pay attention to our mental temperature

Finally, please make sure you are reaching out using resources if you are struggling with anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts. All of us need to pay attention to our mental temperature as well as our physical temperature every morning.

Mental Health Resources

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (U.S.) — Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Crisis Text Line — Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor
  • Lifeline Crisis Chat — Chat online with a specialist who can provide emotional support, crisis intervention and suicide prevention services at www.crisischat.org
  • Stress management tips and resources

Other Uplifting Resources

The Tapping Solution, A Technique to Lower Cortisol and Reduce Stress- Podcast interview by Dr. Kara Fitzgerald with Nick Ortner.

This article includes 11 tips on how to entertain yourself during self-isolation.

I also discussed more self-care tips and have also been offering reflective readings and resources for my readers.


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