Connect. Much has been written about the mental health burden caused by social isolation, in general, and exacerbated by this pandemic. Restrictions on travel and connecting in person have put some individuals at particularly high risk for mental health problems. When mental health conditions strike, people can find themselves alone on a journey that is just as scary as the novel coronavirus. And it gets worse when we layer on the shame that can come with having a mental illness rather than some other health condition that carries no stigma. Connecting – and stay connected – with someone you care about can go a long way in promoting mental health and can be lifesaving for those with mental illness.
Be kind. Self-loathing and self-blame is common for individuals who suffer with mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and eating disorders. Why can’t I be normal? I lack willpower. I should feel better. Many of us have a lot of mental noise in our heads these days as well. I should be more productive. I have no excuse for not exercising. I should be eating better. Acting with kindness toward others and ourselves quiets the mental noise and creates the space needed for whatever has to take place to heal and feel better.
Be generous. When an individual is sick with fever, we expect and accept their withdrawal. When an individual is preoccupied due to mental health concerns, they are subject to being called self-absorbed and antisocial when they may actually be spending too much time listening to that critical inner voice and incessant self-criticism. Being generous creates connection and communicates that you see the other person as worthy. Each act adds to the experience of social network of caring and fuels a virtuous cycle for mental health and healing.
Laugh and play. Intentional efforts to create experiences of joy and pleasure are essential to our mental health always, and especially at times of stress. Whether we are experiencing widespread stress due to something like this pandemic or facing more individualized stress associated with mental disorder, laughing and playing have enormous mental health benefits. The mental health and healing effects of these positive strategies can be mapped in our brains and are essential to developing a repertoire of enhanced coping and resilience.
Model self-care. One of the ways that we can all step up as essential workers in supporting each other’s mental health is to take care of ourselves. This is a serious issue in the context of the pandemic. Frontline health providers are burning out when the pandemic surges in their region. Memes of exhausted parents with young children abound. WFH employees are not taking vacation. It has been said that kids don’t always listen, but they observe. The same is true across many relationships. Taking affirmative steps to tend to our own mental health needs is instructive across our communities that are especially stressed these days and is particularly constructive in our relationships with those who are struggling with mental disorders.