Health and economics. These two important topics have been all over the news. But, they don’t cover a shadow wave that is just as important: the impact on our mental health.

Even if we are successful at slowing the spread of the pandemic and our economic policies are effective, there will be PTSD when we stabilize. And many are confused and afraid now. This has an enormous impact on our health, our ability to respond, and our economic well-being.

My mother was schizophrenic and bipolar. I grew up in her shadow. As her son, I looked on helplessly while she oscillated between manic frenzies and long periods of sleep and depression. My whole family was impacted. It was she who was the focus of our meetings with psychiatrists, but the rest of us suffered, too. Mostly nothing was said about that. Well, it was the ’60s and mental health was not treated as the serious issue that it is today.

My family’s suffering impacted our ability to perform, my father at his job and me at school. I learned so much about how to care for myself. Today there are support groups for families. But, the PTSD persisted for years, even after her death. Here’s what I learned in a nutshell: the impact on family and friends is real. This applies to anyone going through something similar in relation to the pandemic.

There were effective interventions that really worked to mitigate our trauma. These include:

    • Take breaks. Get downtime. Do things that give you an opportunity to reset, like watching a tv show that takes you out of your head, having a phone call about nothing with a close friend, and anything that makes you laugh.
    • Give yourself physical attention. Humans are made to touch. Social distancing creates real stress, especially for people living alone. Don’t minimize giving yourself hand or foot massages. The astronauts do it in space. Put on some music you enjoy and take 5 minutes.
    • Understand what is happening and how it relates to you. Dedicate some time to learning about your circumstances. Get information from outside experts. When they give advice, try it out. It may feel silly to do a Zumba class in your living room through Facetime, but give it a shot. It might really work for you.
    • Prayer really works. This won’t come as a surprise to those of faith, but it may for those who do not have a religious path. You don’t have to believe in God, studies show. Plumb your own depths and write out what you really believe in. Then, take personal time to find solace in yourself. By the way, listening to music that moves you deeply counts as a form of prayer.
    • Hang out with friends. All these virtual get-togethers may seem artificial, but they are not. They are genuine social interactions. Go ahead, enjoy a virtual happy hour. Or pull some friends together that you can be honest with to have a conversation.
    • Find a small number of people that you can truly confide in. Make it a priority to create emotional intimacy with two or three people. When you tell your story, you get it out of your head and it does not overtake you as much.
    • Celebrate any time you feel like it! Maybe the middle of the day and you have a win with a customer, or a niece has a birthday, or you just feel like it. Don’t delay! If you are having one of those moments, live it fully!
    • Tune into people you find inspirational. Watch a video or read a book where you get heartfelt sustenance and inspired.

My very best wishes as you shelter in place. Stay safe. Stay home. And keep washing your hands!

“It’s so important that we all speak up on mental health.”