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It’s no surprise that people are feeling anxious right now.
Workers are worrying about how they’ll pay the rent as hours are cut back. Young parents are trying to do their jobs remotely while watching their children who are home from school. Older people are weighing the health risks of making a quick run to the grocery store.
Most people’s lives have been turned upside down by the coronavirus.
As Congress takes action to keep our economy strong and our people healthy, we can’t forget those who far too often have been left behind – people who are living with mental illness and those struggling with addiction.
It’s estimated that 1 in 5 people in our country are living with mental illness or substance use disorders. Sadly, people with mental illness and people with substance use disorders may fail to get the treatment they need in a typical year. And as we know, this year is anything but typical.
We know that people who misuse opioids are at high risk for coronavirus. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse and other health experts, opioids impact the respiratory and pulmonary health of users and make them more susceptible to respiratory infections, including coronavirus.
People who are living with a mental illness or addiction often have other health conditions that make them more likely to suffer severe complications from the coronavirus.
Responding to the coronavirus pandemic requires a comprehensive health care strategy, including increasing access to community mental health and addiction treatment services. And the best way we can do that is to include the expansion of Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics in the next emergency package passed by Congress.
Six years ago, we worked together to pass our Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Act. It created quality standards of care and funding to open community clinics that are transforming mental health and addiction treatment.
After only two years of operations, communities that have CCBHCs are providing life-saving services. They work closely with law enforcement and our schools and coordinate with hospitals to dramatically reduce emergency room visits.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, they’ve led to a 60% decrease in time spent in jails, a 41% decrease in homelessness and a 63% decrease in emergency department visits for behavioral health. That’s a big deal when every hospital bed matters right now.
CCBHCs also are well-positioned to support those struggling to cope with the stress of coronavirus, whether it’s anxiety, depression, loneliness brought on by social isolation or even trauma faced by front-line health care workers. And many CCBHCs provide telemedicine services, allowing people to access help without increasing their potential exposure to the virus.
As our nation confronts COVID-19, we must not leave those with mental illness and addiction disorders behind. And the good news is, by working together, we can make sure that doesn’t happen.
Living with mental illness is not easy. It’s a consistent problem without a clear solution. While treatments like medication and psychotherapy are incredibly helpful, sometimes people experiencing mental health conditions need to do more day-in and day-out to feel good or even just okay.
Some common self-help suggestions people receive are to exercise, meditate and be more present, which are helpful and work for many people. However, other proven methods aren’t mentioned as often. Many of them are quick and simple techniques that can easily be added to daily routines.
Finding the right coping mechanism takes time and patience, but it can enormously impact how you feel. If you haven’t had success with techniques you’ve tried, or you’re looking to add a few more to your toolkit, here are seven coping mechanisms recommended by mental health professionals worth trying out.
Radical acceptance is “completely and totally accepting something from the depths of your soul, with your heart and your mind,” according to Marsha Linehan (creator of dialectal behavior therapy). Included in this definition is the idea that no matter what, you cannot change a situation. For example, imagine a tornado is coming your way. Obviously, you can’t do anything to stop the tornado; that’s not possible. But if you accept the fact that it’s coming, then you can act, prepare and keep yourself safe. If you sit around trying to will the tornado to stop or pretend that there is no tornado, you’re going to be in real trouble when it comes.
The same applies to mental illness. You cannot change the fact that you have a mental illness, so any time you spend trying to “get rid of it” or pretend it doesn’t exist is only draining you of valuable energy. Accept yourself. Accept your condition. Then take the necessary steps to take care of yourself.
Breathing is an annoying cliché at this point, but that’s because the best way to calm anxiety really is to breathe deeply. When battling my own anxiety, I turned to the concept of “5 3 7” breathing:
- Breathe in for 5 seconds
- Hold the breath for 3 seconds
- Breathe out for 7 seconds
This gentle repetition sends a message to the brain that everything is okay (or it will be soon). Before long, your heart will slow its pace and you will begin to relax—sometimes without even realizing it.
Opposite-to-emotion thinking is how it sounds: You act in the opposite way your emotions tell you to act. Say you’re feeling upset and you have the urge to isolate. Opposite-to-emotion tells you to go out and be around people—the opposite action of isolation. When you feel anxious, combat that with something calming like meditation. When you feel manic, turn to something that stabilizes you. This technique is probably one of the hardest to put into play, but if you can manage it, the results are incredible.
The 5 Senses
Another effective way to use your physical space to ground you through a crisis is by employing a technique called “The 5 Senses.” Instead of focusing on a specific object, with “The 5 Senses” you run through what each of your senses is experiencing in that moment. As an example, imagine a PTSD flashback comes on in the middle of class. Stop! Look around you. See the movement of a clock’s hands. Feel the chair beneath you. Listen to your teacher’s voice. Smell the faint aroma of the chalkboard. Chew a piece of gum.
Running through your senses will take only a few seconds and will help keep you present and focused on what is real, on what is happening right now.
Mental reframing involves taking an emotion or stressor and thinking of it in a different way. Take, for example, getting stuck in traffic. Sure, you could think to yourself, “Wow, my life is horrible. I’m going to be late because of this traffic. Why does this always happen to me?”
Or you can reframe that thought, which might look something like, “This traffic is bad, but I’ll still get to where I’m going. There’s nothing I can do about it, so I’ll just listen to music or an audiobook to pass the time.” Perfecting this technique can literally change your perspective in tough situations. But as you might imagine, this skill takes time and practice.
If you live in denial of your emotions, it will take far longer to take care of them, because once we recognize what we’re feeling, we can tackle it or whatever is causing it. So, if you’re feeling anxious, let yourself be anxious for a couple of minutes—then meditate. If you’re feeling angry, let yourself be angry—then listen to some calming music. Be in touch with your emotions. Accept that you are feeling a certain way, let yourself feel that way and then take action to diminish unhealthy feelings.
You can’t control that you have mental illness, but you can control how you respond to your symptoms. This is not simple or easy (like everything else with mental illness), but learning, practicing and perfecting coping techniques can help you feel better emotionally, spiritually and physically. I’ve tried all the above techniques, and they have transformed the way I cope with my mental health struggles.
It takes strength and persistence to recover from mental illness—to keep fighting symptoms in the hopes of feeling better. Even if you feel weak or powerless against the battles you face every day, you are incredibly strong for living through them. Practical and simple methods can help you in your fight. Take these techniques into consideration, and there will be a clear change in the way you feel and live your life.
Emmie Pombo is a student striving to crush mental illness and addiction stigma. She also advocates for the people who haven’t yet spoken honestly about their struggles. Rooted in Florida, Emmie hopes to eventually diminish any lies surrounding the treatable mental disorders that are becoming more and more prevalent throughout the world.
Why Don’t Teachers Get Training On Mental Health Disorders?
Teaching may be one of the most difficult jobs in the world, with expectations and demands coming from all sides. Teachers juggle content standards, the social and emotional needs of students, behavior, and often trauma, but they also are the first line of defense when students have mental health problems. Paying attention to all these elements helps create a well-run, high functioning classroom, but dealing with all of them well — often in overcrowded classrooms — can feel completely overwhelming.
To make it worse, most teachers are given very little training on how to detect mental health disorders in students. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in five children has or will have a severe mental health disorder, so the lack of training is a huge disservice to teachers who are likely to encounter these issues in their students.
In an article published by The Atlantic, Jessica Lahey combines her personal experience dealing with mental health issues in the classroom with research on how teachers might be better prepared. She points out that often teachers aren’t even aware of mental health practices used by other staff in the building where they work. She writes:
As an increasing number of schools roll out evidence-based mental-health programs such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), teaching that promotes appropriate student behavior by proactively defining, teaching, and supporting positive student conduct, and Trauma-Sensitive Schools, programs aimed at reducing the effects of trauma on children’s emotional and academic well-being, educators need to be at least minimally conversant in the terminology, methods, and thinking behind these strategies. These programs provide strategies that can be highly effective, but only if the teachers tasked with implementing them are sufficiently trained in the basics of mental-health interventions and treatment.
Some teachers may feel this type of preparation is not their job, but it is easy to confuse the symptoms of a mental health disorder with run-of-the-mill misbehavior, and how a teacher handles those situations affects the learning of every child in the classroom. If the teacher’s job is to teach the whole child, mental well-being and support is part of the description.
Abnormal is the new normal — at least for mental health. Only a small share of the population stays mentally healthy from age 11 to 38. Everyone else experiences a mental illness at some point, a new study finds.
“For many, an episode of mental disorder is like influenza, bronchitis, kidney stones, a broken bone or other [common] conditions,” says Jonathan Schaefer. He is a psychologist at Duke University. A coauthor of the study, he notes that “Sufferers experience impaired functioning. Many seek medical care, but most recover.”
The study looked at 988 people who lived in New Zealand. Only 171 — or about one in six people —experienced no anxiety disorders, depression or other mental ailments from late childhood to middle age. Of the rest, half experienced a mental disorder that lasted a short time. This was typically just a bout of depression, anxiety or substance abuse. The person then recovered.
The remaining 408 people — roughly two out of every five — experienced one or more mental disorders that lasted at least several years. Their diagnoses included more severe conditions. These may have included bipolar and psychotic disorders.
Schaefer and his colleagues shared their findings in the February Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
By the numbers…
The researchers analyzed data on people born between April 1972 and March 1973 in Dunedin, New Zealand. Each person’s general health and behavior was assessed 13 times from birth to age 38. Mental health was assessed eight times from age 11 onward.
Previous studies had linked several traits with a lower chance of developing mental disorders. These included growing up in an unusually well-off family and enjoying really good physical health. Scoring very high on intelligence tests also has been linked to good mental health. Surprisingly, however, the New Zealanders who stayed mentally healthy scored no better of those qualities than anyone else.
Instead, people with good mental health tended to have personality traits that gave them some sort of advantage. Those traits started emerging in childhood, the surveys showed. These people rarely expressed strongly negative emotions. They also tended to have lots of friends and very good self-control. Those with lasting mental health also had relatively few family members with mental disorders, compared with their peers.
There were some benefits in adulthood for those who always had good mental health. These people had, on average, more education, better jobs and higher-quality relationships. They also reported more satisfaction with their lives than the others did. But lasting mental health doesn’t guarantee an exceptional sense of well-being, Schaefer points out. Nearly one-in-four people never diagnosed with mental illness scored below the entire group’s average score for life satisfaction.
Less surprising was the 83 percent overall rate of mental disorders. That matches recent estimates from four other long-term projects. Two had focused on Americans. One looked at people in Switzerland. The last was another study from New Zealand. These studies followed people for 12 to 30 years. And over that follow-up, between 61 percent and 85 percent of the participants reported having at least some mental disorders.
Such high rates also were reported in an earlier study, from 1962. It had surveyed a random mix of people living on the island of Manhattan in New York City. Many researchers had doubted that study’s findings, however. Why? It had relied on a diagnostic system that was less strict than the ones used to evaluate the people in New Zealand, explains William Eaton. In fact, he says, the Manhattan study now appears to have been on the right track. Eaton is an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Md.
There is often a stigma attached to mental illness. But if more people realize that most will eventually develop some mental disorder, at least briefly, that stigma might fall, Eaton suspects.
Ronald Kessler is also an epidemiologist. He works at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Mass. Kessler directs U.S. surveys of mental disorders. He suspects the numbers of people who experience a mental disorder may be even higher than what was reported in these studies.
Many people that seemed to have enduring mental health in these studies may not have. They may have developed brief mental disorders that got overlooked, he says. It might have been something such as a couple of weeks of serious depression after a romantic breakup.
Focusing on those rare cases of lasting mental health may not be the best idea, he says. “The more interesting thing is to compare people with persistent mental illness to those with temporary disorders.”
By Bruce Bower