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COVID-19: Mental Health Help for Everyone

Cedars-Sinai Expert Says Self-Care, Structure Are Key to Good Mental Health During Uncertain Times

Whether it's worrying about the health of a loved one, feeling stressed about job security or being restless after weeks of being cooped up in the house, the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic is taking a toll on nearly everyone's mental health.

"The foundation of health—both physical and mental health—is safety," said Itai Danovitch, MD, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at Cedars-Sinai.

In a crisis, Danovitch said, we perceive external threats to that sense of safety. And for those who already struggle with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, the current pandemic can intensify their symptoms.

The good news, according to Danovitch, is that there are things we can do about it.

"I think one of the basic tenets of how to manage your mental health in a crisis like this is to ensure that you're taking care of your own basic needs—taking breaks, having rest and sleep, getting adequate nutrition, exercising and having compassion for yourself and others," Danovitch said.

For those facing mental health struggles, a referral for mental healthcare may be available without having to physically visit a doctor's office.

"People can reach out to their primary care doctors remotely to let them know if they have new concerns or anxiety or changes in mood, and to get guidance and referrals to appropriate treatment providers," Danovitch said.

Insurance providers, along with and state and local departments of health, can also help identify an appropriate and accessible care provider.

Creating a daily schedule also can help. Danovitch suggests carving out separate blocks of time to eat, work, relax and play.

"It helps to ensure that the day doesn't get consumed by worrying, because our fear and our worries, when we don’t have control over them, can sometimes have the effect of overtaking other activities," he said. "We want to acknowledge our emotions. It's OK to worry, and it's OK to have fear. On the other hand, we want to try to put a container around them so that they don't consume all the other components of the day. We want to be deliberate about trying to have those other experiences that we talked about—self-care and connection."

When looking at news and information about the current situation, Danovitch stresses the importance of making sure it's from trustworthy sources, such as the CDC and local public health authorities.

"Getting accurate information includes accepting areas where there is uncertainty," Danovitch said. "It also includes responding to areas where there's very clear direction from trusted authorities and experts."

Optimism and compassion can go a long way during these uncertain times, Danovitch said. He suggests calling or video-chatting with those who are isolated or otherwise at risk for mental health struggles.

"I think that listening—listening with empathy, listening with compassion—is very powerful," he said. "We can't change every difficult circumstance, but by being with people, by bearing witness to what they're going through, by connecting with them and letting them know that we are there for them, even if we're not there physically, I think we help each other out."

Those who have certain talents or skills may be uniquely qualified to lend a hand to others, Danovitch said.

"This is a time to reach deep down into our values and think about how we can take the talents and the skills and the training and the energy, and apply it to try to help our community," he said .

Read more on the Cedars-Sinai blog: 5 Tips for Healthy Working From Home Habits.