In only a short time, COVID-19 has drastically changed our way of life, making life feel hopeless for some. Social distancing, self isolation, financial uncertainty, fear of oneself or family becoming sick, complications from contracting the illness, and grief from losing loved ones can take a significant emotional toll, even on those who always appear strong.
Complying with Virginia’s stay-at-home orders, while essential for combating this public health emergency, may aggravate existing mental health problems, or prompt new ones. There is help. Don’t be afraid to seek it.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has outlined ways we can all cope with social distancing, quarantine, and isolation during an outbreak, providing tips on how to manage one’s emotional well being. They warn that in addition to the boredom that is likely to occur for most of us, stronger emotions such as fear, anxiety, anger, and loneliness may arise. Such negative feelings are normal, though they may seem harder to deal with, but they can also fuel more severe concerns such as substance abuse, suicide, and post-traumatic stress disorder. In these cases, SAMHSA urges people to seek help.
I know from personal experience how serious these issues are. My family lost my older brother Brian due to PTSD three years ago. Tormented by the trauma resulting from childhood sexual abuse, he turned to alcoholism as a method to cope. His death remains the most horrific experience my family and I have gone through. I firmly believe we must do everything in our power to broaden awareness of mental health issues and provide assistance.
People should know that it is OK to reach out for help. In Frederick County, residents can call the Concern Hotline, a Winchester-based nonprofit providing emergency mental-health counseling 24/7. Callers remain anonymous and receive referrals to local services based on their needs. The phone number is 540-667-0145.
Those outside the Frederick area can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which connects callers to local crisis centers. It can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, The Crisis Text Line also exists to bring immediate, 24-hour access to trained counselors by texting HOME to 741741.
Our first responders are often dubbed real-life superheroes. Their bravery, though, does not make them immune to the emotional strain of working on the front lines of a pandemic. They witness the most heartbreaking aspects of COVID-19 while performing incredibly stressful jobs that expose them, and in turn their families, to the Coronavirus.
Currently, the Virginia Department of Health recommends resources for first responders who unfortunately experience vicarious trauma in their jobs. These services include Frontline Responders Services, Safe Call Now, and National Volunteer Fire Council Fire/EMS Helpline. These free, confidential hotlines counsel first responders and their families to help them with the heavy burden they endure.
My loss inspired me to use my voice in Richmond for those who had no one to speak for them. In 2018, I led the effort to more vigorously support suicide prevention efforts, which received bipartisan support. The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Service now reports to both the Governor and General Assembly on the department’s suicide prevention campaigns.
I continued working with colleagues to promote mental health this year. One bill I co-patroned shrinks the ratio between students and school counselors. Another piece of legislation will allow police and firefighters to access workers compensation due to PTSD. Both bills passed the General Assembly with bipartisan majorities.
Mental health issues affect people from all walks of life every day, but especially in times of stress and change. Check in on friends, family, and neighbors during this time, even as we respectfully self distance. Support those in need and report concerns. We are all in this together.
And please, remember to take care of yourself.