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Your Mental Health Needs Attention During The Pandemic, Too — Here’s What You Can Do

Two Australians created Mental Health First Aid  in 2001. Since then, millions of people have taken classes in how to help someone in a mental health crisis.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

The stay-at-home orders in place in our region are set to expire by the end of the month, but it’slikely they will be extended, as the coronavirus continues to spread. Even after the strictest measures lift, social distancing guidelines will continue to keep infections from flaring back up. 

These measures help combat the spread of the coronavirus, but they also take a toll on our mental health. 

“We’ve had a drastic change in our daily activities, in our ability to engage in our community and those meaningful interactions for our lives,” said Elizabeth Reinberg, a clinical site supervisor at Provident Behavioral Health in St. Louis. Reinberg is a mental health professional who oversees the services — like individual and family therapy — at the Provident facility in Maryland Heights. 

While people experience stressors throughout daily life, the coronavirus pandemic adds to that stress, she explained. 

“It is very important that we’re doing some healthy things and healthy strategies for ourselves to keep it from boiling over,” Reinberg said. “Mental well-being needs to be important to every person, not just individuals who may be experiencing signs or symptoms of a diagnosable condition.”

St. Louis Public Radio’s Eric Schmid spoke with Reinberg about why this particular situation is difficult, and provided some strategies and resources for maintaining good mental health during this pandemic. 

At the bottom of this article are numbers and links for mental health resources in the St. Louis region. 

This interview transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

Eric Schmid: How does staying inside, away from other people, impact us, mentally, emotionally? This pandemic is probably going to be a prolonged stressful situation for many of us in the St. Louis region.

Elizabeth Reinberg: Staying inside is affecting and increasing irritability or depression; not necessarily clinical, diagnosable depression, but feeling sad or feeling lonely. Those things that every single one of us experiences.

Schmid: Some of our readers may be feeling different right now and may not understand what it means. What kinds of signs should they look for that something isn’t right and they should maybe think about seeking help?

Reinberg: Some of the early warning signs would be a shortened fuse, feeling more irritable and less engaged in the conversations that we are having. Disrupted sleep. Eating habits. Are you eating more or eating less? Those are some early warning signs that all of us should be paying attention to.

Schmid: What could happen if we don’t pay attention to those? 

Reinberg: Longer term, if we’re not paying attention or attending to these warning signs, we can develop a mental health condition. But at the very least, our enjoyment of our daily life is severely inhibited. There are definitely things we can do to counteract these symptoms and address them. I think about it if you’re cooking a pot of noodles, you can catch it before it boils over and becomes a much bigger problem.

Schmid: What about people with preexisting, diagnosed mental health conditions? What are some strategies or how can they stay healthy right now?

Reinberg: If they are connected with an established provider, reach out to that provider and find out the options for services. The second thing is to make sure they have contact information for a crisis line. Save it in your phone, put it on your refrigerator, put it somewhere else in your house, so that way you have easy access to those resources. 

The general things would be some of the same things that help anyone. Making sure that you’re finding a routine. Doing some type of exercise. Balanced eating. And finding some type of connection.

Schmid: Your appointments are now remote. Is that effective? Does it work to still have a counseling session when it’s not in person?

Reinberg: Absolutely. It’s a service at a time of need for many people. We’re getting a lot of positive feedback from people about how helpful it is and how glad they are that they can still access their therapist.

Schmid: Where should someone look for help first if they’re in crisis?

Reinberg: There are bigger companies that offer telehealth services or crisis lines like Provident. Nonprofits are available in many places. Sometimes the quickest route to get resources is to call your insurance company and find out who’s in network. You can also call our crisis line, and we can give you a list of places that are within your ZIP code as well.

Schmid: What about the cost? 

Reinberg: We work with clients on what their needs are and so are several other agencies and providers in the area. They’re reducing their cost or making things more accessible in this type of situation.

Schmid: So, somebody’s financial situation should not be a limitation or barrier for them to be able to receive mental health care?

Reinberg: Correct.

Schmid: What are three easy ways, or simple ways, that people can maintain positive mental health each day?

Reinberg: The first is to find a routine. It can help us separate from our work life and free time. The biggest part of a routine is not just getting your work done, but it’s also about recognizing when work is over and doing things that are fun. That’s really important for our mental health.

Another really key thing is to do something active. If you can go safely outside and keep physical distance, getting fresh air can be really healthy. Not everybody has the capacity to do that. At the very least, we can do some stretching in our homes.

I mentioned connection. We’re not connecting with people in the same way as we used to, but connection is still vital. If you have the capability to talk to someone on the phone, video chat if that’s possible, send text messages or online posting, looking at pictures of family for friends. Writing cards or letters to people. There’s a lot of different ways to connect.

National and local mental health resources

United Way 2-1-1: dial 2-1-1 

A database of nonprofits and other available resources including mental health, income support, family support and others.

Provident Health 24/7 Crisis Line: 314-647-4357

A local hotline for people in crisis. A mental health expert listens and helps find steps toward overcoming personal challenges.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

A national network of local crisis centers that provide free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

Casa de Salud Mental Health Collaborative: 314-977-1240 

Local clinical and mental health care to the uninsured, with a special focus on the immigrant community. 

The Trevor Project: 866-488-7386

National organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24. 

COVID-19 support for medical personelle and first responders: 618-381-5173

A local hotline for medical personnel and first responders who are involved in caring for COVID-19 patients. 

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid

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Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.