Governor Mike Dewine’s extension to May 1 of Ohio’s coronavirus “stay-at-home” directive has left Fulton County residents homebound and looking for ways to keep busy.
What some may have already realized is that being cooped up indoors, away from extended family and friends, and in some cases unexpectedly unemployed, can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression that can manifest in unhealthy ways.
And those already grappling with mental illness may find the struggle exacerbated by the isolation.
Being ordered to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic is uncharted territory, and can cause heightened depression and anxiety in even the most stable people, said Nancy Shannon, an outpatient therapist for FulCare Behavioral Health at the Fulton County Health Center.
“There are a lot of unknowns, and that creates a lot of anxiety for people,” she said. “It can lead to drinking, drugs, and suicidal threats. Some people have a propensity for that anyway with their mental illness, so this can make it worse.”
The negative, stressful feelings can be intensified because family members are untypically crowded together at home or because the virus scare has left one or more family members unemployed. Such conditions can become volatile, resulting in cases of emotional and verbal abuse and domestic violence, Shannon said.
“Don’t let the virus monopolize your negative thinking. Don’t make it worse,” she said. “This is temporary. You’re looking at a couple of months, not your whole life.”
Instead, pay attention to not thinking about coronavirus and its implications, Shannon said. That means, in part, switching off media outlets that bombards viewers with ominous coronavirus facts and figures day and night.
“Some people are glued to the TV, watching one news program after another. You need some balance there,” she said. “Look for the positive. Use (time at home) as an opportunity.”
Tackle projects you’ve put off, Shannon suggested. Paint, build, and clean. Exercise, arrange a healthier diet, and use FaceTime, Skype, and other online outlets to stay connected with people in your life.
Most importantly, use all of these activities to maintain a routine, she said. That includes a regular schedule for getting up, eating meals, and going to bed – whatever is necessary to keep a sense of normalcy.
If your life is faith-based, use that faith to help you cope, Shannon said.
And keep a sense of humor through it all, she advised. Find humor in life where you can, and find pleasant things to occupy your time.
“You’re not used to being home together for this amount of time. You’re not used to having the kids at home 24/7,” Shannon said. “This is a challenging time for everyone, and it can also be an opportunity to make relationships closer. Enjoy one another’s company, and you may have to be more creative about that.”
Just hearing the state’s order to stay at home due to the coronavirus outbreak is frightening, said Tonie Long, director of quality improvement at the Four County ADAMhs Board in Archbold.
“For some, it’s not just managing information. Now they can’t go to work. We need to practice good self-care,” she said.
The perceived loss attached to social distancing can trigger boredom, frustration, loneliness, and anger, she said. She agrees that remaining connected to family and friends through phone calls and online services is important.
“Call and talk with a friend, and remember there is a world outside these four walls,” Long said. “These are ways we can connect and just have conversations with these people.”
Long also agrees that maintaining a variety of interests while stuck at home is vital. “You don’t want to be consuming media 24/7. This is not healthy. Give yourself a break to engage in other things.”
Above all, Shannon and Long said, reach out for help from mental health services if the situations sparked by coronavirus become overwhelming. If you already see a mental health provider, keep your appointments.
“This is a significant issue our country is facing,” Long said. But people in Fulton County facing sadness and depression over the current changes in life have mental health services available.
“If they’re feeling overwhelmed they don’t necessarily need to come into the office to get help,” she said. “Sometimes all we need is to connect with another human being to bring perspective to the depression or anxiety we’re feeling. Face to face can now be handled online.”
And by phone. County residents can call a local crisis hotline at 419-330-2790 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. A crisis hotline that also offers information and referrals is available at 1-800-468-4357, and a national suicide prevention hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. Those in need can also connect with an Ohio crisis text chat line by texting 4hope to 741741.
“We’re being creative with our patients, how we serve them, because we know this is a stressful time,” Shannon said.
Karen VonDeylen, Maumee Valley Guidance Center prevention supervisor, said isolation can impact an individual’s mental health and place them at risk.
“When we do start feeling isolated…we don’t have the strength or motivation to do anything about it. It’s important that we check with people,” she said.
It’s also okay to have a conversation with a family member or friend when experiencing mental stress, VonDeylen added, saying, “Reach out and talk to somebody about that.”
As difficult as it may seem right now, it’s important for people to work on staying uplifted, she said.
“Reframe it so it doesn’t seem so negative. Try to find the positive spin on it. Try to engage it in any way that you can,” she said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.