ITHACA, N.Y. — With thousands of Ithaca residents joining millions of Americans in self-quarantining during the COVID-19 pandemic, national, state and local mental health professionals are asking everyone to be aware of the potential negative impact of self-quarantine and social distancing can have on mental health.
To help people cope and better handle the struggle of being stuck mostly indoors during a viral pandemic that has killed thousands in New York State alone, Governor Andrew Cuomo has established a mental health hotline free and available to anyone in the state.
“Social isolation contributes to depression, and hotlines can be a good first defense for dealing with any negative thoughts that are coming about as a result of the current situation,” said Kevin Field, a clinical psychologist who practices in the Ithaca area.
“Social isolation is often a clear indication that a person is suffering from depression, that is not the case anymore so during current times you have to go with more obvious things like losing pleasure in things you previously enjoyed doing, that’s an early sign. Other signs include insomnia or irregular sleep and active suicidal thoughts,” Field said.
Field added it is important for people to realize that clinically there is a difference between active and passive suicidal thoughts.
“Thoughts like, ‘I don’t want to be here anymore,’ are passive, active suicidal thoughts involve thinking about the means and fantasizing enacting it,” Field said.
If you or someone in your household are experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, it is incredibly important to remove access to means of suicide, especially firearms,“particularly for rural communities there tends to be access to firearms in households,” said Field.
Field added that, despite the fact that many of the young-adults in Ithaca tend to be college-educated, that age group is still prone to rash decision making.
“A lot of attempts, especially for younger men between the ages of 18 and 25, tend to be impulsive acts where they aren’t depressed but instead just upset. But the most lethal demographic is men over 65, so really self-restricting access to firearms is very important,” Field said.
Many therapists and mental health professionals are also staging sessions on the phone or using programs such as Facetime or Zoom. Field added that insurance companies and many therapists are in the process of figuring out the logistics, but it is always good for clients to ask if that option is available.
As it stands, all New Yorkers can call (844) 863-9314 to schedule a free mental health appointment with a certified mental health professional volunteering their time. According to Cuomo, over 6,000 mental health professionals across the state have volunteered to man the lines and help New Yorkers get through the pandemic.
Cuomo, who has frequently drawn attention to the hotline during his daily press briefings, has also announced that New York State has partnered with the company Headspace to offer free mediation and mindfulness content for both children and adults.
“People are struggling with the emotions as much as they are struggling with the economics,” said Cuomo during a previous press conference.
Along with the increased possibility for depression during social isolation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that stress caused due to the pandemic and self-isolation can also create increased reliance on drugs such as alcohol, nicotine and marijuana.
Along with using the resources that are being made available, such as Headspace, Field said that there are things people can do to try to maintain a healthy mindset during the pandemic.
“Regular exercise is very important and can go a long way in helping you keep a positive attitude. Another idea is using social media to replace the social interactions lost during the pandemic.
“Generally speaking we want kids off social media as there have been studies showing a correlation between increased screen time and depression. But right now we want people, especially the elderly on it. For elderly people it seems that they benefit from increased screen time,” Field said.
Along with the New York State mental health hotline at (844) 863-9314, the CDC’s disaster distress helpline can be reached at 1-800-985-5990. Instances of domestic violence can also increase during times of self isolation. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1800-799-7233 or TTY 1800-787-3224. New York State has also set up a domestic violence hotline that can be reached at (800) 942-6906.
Programs available through Headspace can be accessed through www.headspace.com/ny.
Featured image Courtesy of Jacob Mroczek