Mental Health During Quarantine

A Q&A with Elizabeth Hinkle, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist from Talkspace

Gillian Moran-Perez, News Editor

As stay-at-home orders across the nation are put in place in the hopes of flattening the curve on the COVID-19 pandemic, the outbreak has impacted the personal health of many Americans. The feelings of worry, anxiety and frustration are common reactions as people adjust to the “new normal.”

A survey conducted by Pew Research Center revealed that people financially affected by COVID-19 are experiencing psychological distress. About 30% of Americans who see the outbreak as a major threat to their financial situation are reportedly under high distress according to the survey, and about 32% of people fall under the high distress category when asked if the outbreak was a major personal health threat. Pew identified distress as loneliness, depression, anxiety and sleeplessness.

Another report by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly 4 in 10 Americans said that feelings of worry and stress as a result of the coronavirus have had a negative impact on their mental health. On the Centers for Disease Control’s site, common reactions to COVID-19 include feeling socially isolated. The site also points out that those with mental health concerns may feel higher levels of distress.

On top of feeling financial distress, quarantine and social distancing have also taken a toll on people as therapists report how often coronavirus has appeared in conversation. Talkspace, an online therapy platform, reports that since February more people have been seeking therapy and the mentions of “coronavirus” has increased 15 times in the past three weeks, according to data Talkspace sent to The Sundial via email.

In a Q&A with Elizabeth Hinkle, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist from Talkspace, Hinkle gave insight on how to accept certain feelings as normal and how to adapt to working at home.

1) One of the most common effects of quarantine is worrying, feeling useless and also even frustrated at not being able to do what was once normal. In one of the blogs, Talkspace reminds us that those feelings are normal. Why is it important to continue affirming that mentality and how can people see that they do have control over their own thoughts?

We’ve not experienced something like this before\; we’re all learning there is a wide variety of feelings and reactions to this unique situation. It’s important to continue to remember there is no right or wrong way to feel and to acknowledge our emotional experiences. One thing we can practice controlling is our thoughts, which in turn affect our emotions.

For example, if we allow the “what if” thoughts to take over, we’re more likely to feel anxious and fearful. If we notice thoughts like this and reframe them to facts, we will in turn feel better. Some helpful replacement thoughts could be, “I am safe right now. Nothing is happening at this moment.” “I can stay safe by staying home when possible and washing my hands thoroughly.” “I cannot control what others are doing or if they’re following the rules.”

2) Though you identify as a therapist, you also have your everyday routine, family and self to take care of. How are you dealing with this situation? Can it be challenging to put into practice what you teach and how do you manage to avoid feeling burnt out as many are coming to your platform for help?

It’s very challenging to practice what I preach as a therapist and I know my colleagues struggle with this as well. We want to be the helpers and give support to many clients. Ultimately we are humans also going through this experience alongside our clients. Taking care of ourselves and our loved ones is essential and needs to be our top priority if we are to treat others effectively. Doing at least one thing per day that feels grounding to me is essential.

3) Many groups can feel isolated as a result of social distancing, including the elderly. How can they be helped during these times if they live in their own home or in a senior facility?

Social isolation during this physical distancing is a true concern of many, especially for the elderly who may not have the knowledge, skills, or access to some of the technology that’s helping younger generations stay connected. Some good news is those living in facilities may already have small group activities or opportunities for one-on-one conversations. We all can do our part to reach out, call older loved ones, and check on neighbors.

4) As mentioned in Talkspace press release, free online therapy is being offered to frontline medical workers. What are some techniques recommended to them to handle the pressure and anxiety?

Talkspace is pleased to offer free online therapy to healthcare workers on the frontlines. Having a therapist to check in with and talk to about emotional experiences is so helpful. Self-care, even extra measures of this, is important to prevent burnout. Acknowledging we cannot help everyone is also important, setting the boundaries we need to protect ourselves. Saying no, pacing our work, and taking lots of breaks are other ways to go about this.

5) Many communities have a stigma around mental health. How can anyone support their mental health and cope with anxiety/depression if they are living with members who neglect mental health issues?

It is extra challenging to manage your own mental health concerns when others around you are not. This is an important time to recognize your boundaries and how you cannot control what others are doing to take care of themselves. Focus on yourself and what you can control: your emotions, your coping skills, your therapy, and how to help yourself feel better. Do your best to tune out what’s going on around you and set limits when needed.

6) Much of our campus community are parents, either faculty/staff and students as well. What message do you give to those who are now learning to adjust to a new at home workspace and ensure their child continues with their education?

There are so many adjustments being made with families — people working from home, students learning at home, and cohabitating with family and roommates. To parents: As much as possible allow your child(ren) and the school system to take responsibility for their education. Parenting priorities remain to ensure your child(ren)’s health, well-being, and safety-physical, emotional, mental. To students: check out resources being offered by your school to help with a schedule, routine, and remember to build in breaks and self-care!

This is a bonus question: How do you think world leaders can take care of their own mental health as they make decisions that affect everyone in some way or another?

World leaders need support for their mental health and the many pressures they are under. Ideally they are seeking therapy. At minimum, there is a safe support network of people for them to share with and stay grounded.

Protecting one’s physical health is critical, but so is paying attention to one’s own mental health.