We’re in This Together: Mental Health Challenges & Resources in the Time of COVID-19

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I’m not going to lie: adjusting to the pace of life under the shelter-in-place restrictions has been tough for me. You don’t enter politics unless you truly like being around people a lot. It’s a huge — and difficult — change for me to spend all day everyday alone. I’m used to a very busy schedule where I am in meetings with constituents or speaking at events or on the Senate floor for nine or ten hours each day. I usually commute back and forth to Sacramento from San Francisco, and spend a lot of time in both my Capitol and District Offices. It’s been an adjustment, to say the least.

And though it’s been tough on me, I’m privileged to have stable employment, housing, and health insurance in this tumultuous time. Far too many of the people I represent aren’t so fortunate. Far too many people in my community have lost jobs, are unsure if they’ll be able to make rent or pay the mortgage, and are unable to afford enough food for their family.

Add to that the concern we all have about our own health and the health of the people we love, and it’s a lot. On top of it all, if a parent or grandparent gets sick or dies, we may not even be able to go care for them, and there may not even be a traditional funeral. The stress caused by isolation, combined with uncertainty about the future and fear for our families, can be crushing.

It’s a challenging time on every level. I want to talk about the impacts the Coronavirus emergency is having on mental health in our community, and what resources are out there for folks who might be struggling.

I saw this article in Axios about the coronavirus outbreak’s toll on our mental and emotional health and found it upsetting but unsurprising. We are dealing with a lot right now: the social and physical toll of isolation and staying inside, financial and job stress, sick friends or family, and of course anxiety about getting or being sick. Not to mention, it’s hard not to feel down about the state of global affairs right now. It’s a tough time for everyone, and it’s hard not to spend all day worrying.

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There are many resources out there that can be helpful for those struggling with mental health challenges right now. Even if you don’t have a specific mental health condition, everyone struggles, and everyone needs support. The resources listed below are intended to be helpful but, of course, do not serve as medical advice. As always, if you are experiencing a mental health emergency, please call 911. And if you are experiencing serious mental health challenges, please get in touch with a physician or therapist as soon as possible.

Resources

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Peer “Warm Line”

Last year, with my colleague Assemblymember Phil Ting, I championed funding for a warm line, which is now up and running and a great resource. Instead of a hotline, which is for emergencies, a warm line is a non-emergency peer support line for anyone who needs someone to talk to right now. The people who staff the warm line have had their own mental health challenges, so they understand on a very personal level what it means to struggle. You can talk to the warm line peer support team by calling 1–855–845–7415, or by going to their website and chatting online via instant message (sometimes it’s easier to connect virtually than over the phone).

This is an important, non-emergency resource that meets people where they are and helps address mental health struggles before they become crises.

Struggling to work from home?

For those of us who are lucky enough to be able to work remotely, it can be challenging to adjust to working from home. It can be especially hard if you have a small space, have kids, or are sharing a space with roommates or a partner who are also working from home.

I’ve adjusted my own schedule and routine, and I have a few best practices. First, I take a socially-distanced walk every day, where I stay away from other people but get fresh air. Try avoiding commercial areas (or areas that are more crowded) and go to quieter residential areas. If you’re having trouble focusing, you can take your walk in the middle of the day.

I’d also recommend scheduling “coffee breaks” with your colleagues — maybe a quick FaceTime chat that’s just to catch up and check in.

This Forbes piece does a good job laying out some of the impacts that working from home can have on your mental health. The Center for Workplace Mental Health has a great list of resources for anyone who is looking for guidance on how to improve your mood and productivity while working from home.

Hotlines

There are many important and helpful hotlines for those experiencing specific mental health challenges and need immediate assistance. This list is from Mental Health America is very helpful:

Disaster Distress Helpline

Call 1–800–985–5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746.The Disaster Distress Helpline (DDH) provides crisis counseling and support for anyone in the U.S. experiencing distress or other behavioral health concerns related to any natural or human-caused disaster, including public health emergencies.

Crisis Text Line

Text MHA to 741741 and you’ll be connected to a trained Crisis Counselor. Crisis Text Line provides free, text-based support 24/7.

The Trevor Project

Call 1–866–488–7386 or text START to 678678. A national 24-hour, toll free confidential suicide hotline for LGBTQ youth.

Dial 2–1–1

If you need assistance finding food, paying for housing bills, accessing free childcare, or other essential services, visit 211.org or dial 211 to speak to someone who can help. Run by the United Way.

National Domestic Violence Hotline

For any victims and survivors who need support, call 1–800–799–7233 or 1–800–799–7233 for TTY, or if you’re unable to speak safely, you can log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522.

Caregiver Help Desk

Contact Caregiver Action Network’s Care Support Team by dialing 855–227–3640. Staffed by caregiving experts, the Help Desk helps you find the right information you need to help you navigate your complex caregiving challenges. Caregiving experts are available 8:00 AM — 7:00 PM ET.

Struggling with Substance Use Disorder/Addiction?

For those who have a substance use disorder, COVID-19 and the shelter-in-place order present a specific set of challenges. Addiction treatment is mental health treatment, and we need to make sure that people are getting the help they need, and that harm reduction practices are still possible.

If you’re living with a substance use disorder, Nora’s blog on the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has really helpful resources regarding how those living with addiction might be particularly impacted by COVID-19. If you are an opioid or methamphetamine user, you might be particularly at risk if you contract COVID-19 and should seek medical attention immediately if you are experiencing symptoms.

The NIDA also has an incredible PDF filled with resources for those looking to seek virtual support for addiction, like virtual meetings, online recovery support communities, and other recovery resources.

This blog post from Shatterproof is also helpful for anyone in recovery struggling with a new routine or lack of structure due to the stay-at-home order.

Mental health and addiction are huge priorities for me, now more than ever. Since taking office, I’ve worked on various pieces of legislation to help individuals living with addiction and mental illness, for example, to legalize safe injection sites and to expand mental health funding for teenagers and college age young people. Right now, we are working on two bills — SB 855 and SB 888 — to address parts of our addiction crisis. SB 855 is a mental health parity bill to require that insurance companies provide full mental health care and addiction treatment benefits at the same level of care they provide for physical illness. This is especially important right now, given that people may need a higher level of mental health care than their insurance might cover. The legislation also ensures that Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) for substance use disorder (like methadone for opioid addiction) is covered by insurance. And SB 888 authorizes reimbursement for programs that provide cash payments for people with meth addiction who stay sober. This is the most effective treatment we have for meth addiction right now, and it’s not reimbursable by MediCal.

I’ll keep fighting to get more resources and help for those living with mental illness and addiction.

Tips for seeking therapy

Therapy can be so helpful right now, especially if you’re feeling isolated. You can find a therapist and set up remote sessions using Psychology Today, which lists therapists in the area. Some health insurance covers traditional talk therapy, and on this site you can sort through the list of therapists by whether or not they accept your insurance provider.

If you cannot afford therapy, are uninsured, or your insurance doesn’t cover therapy, you can look into sliding scale therapy. These options are often cheaper and providers will assess your financial need and provide a fee accordingly. The San Francisco Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Center has a good list of sliding scale and low cost therapy providers. The Integral Counseling Centers in San Francisco (sliding scale) are accepting new telehealth patients right now.

Supporting kids and teenagers

For kids or teenagers, staying home from school and getting out of a normal routine can be very challenging. This is also a very stressful time for so many families, financially and otherwise.

The CDC compiled a helpful list of tips and resources for kids during emergencies.

Hang in there

Though I’m not a mental health professional — so this is not official advice by any means — I want to share what’s been helping me stay positive and healthy right now. My days isolated at home are actually quite packed with work — for example, online meetings with constituents, staff, and colleagues, formulating policy to address the emergency, participating in online town halls, conference calls with various government and healthcare leaders, and just keeping up to date about everything that’s happening.

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But, even with that work, I’ve been doing a few things to keep myself healthy:

Logging off Twitter/Facebook and other media for at least a couple of hours each evening

Watching lighthearted TV shows and movies and texting friends with running commentary during the shows (my friends and I are currently re-watching Six Feet Under)

Reading good books (I’m currently reading 1776 by David McCullough, and next up is Creation by Gore Vidal)

Getting (socially-distanced!) fresh air

Practicing Yoga and doing other workouts using Instagram Live

FaceTiming and Zoom-ing with friends and family — I’m FaceTiming with friends and family a lot more than usual, which is a habit I hope to keep up when this is over

And, if you just need to zone out or meditate, check out the amazing Monterey Bay Aquarium Jellyfish Cam. It’s mesmerizing.

I hope this helps and that everyone is taking care of themselves and each other right now. We will get through this!

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CA State Senator. Urbanist. Environmentalist. Advocate for transit, housing, clean energy, criminal justice reform, health, ending poverty. Democrat. 🏳️‍🌈

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