Mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic

Tom Murt

By Rep. Tom Murt

As we live in the current state of the “Stay at Home” order, much remains uncertain. It is imperative that my colleagues and I in the General Assembly and Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration continue working together in a bipartisan manner to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Our neighbors, friends, loved ones and constituents are struggling to cope, especially those who experience mental illness and addiction health concerns.

Dr. Rachel Levine, secretary of the state Department of Health, shares her helpful practices with the public during her daily briefings. “Stay calm, stay home, stay safe.” The first component of staying calm is essential to get through these incredibly challenging times. By focusing on things that you can control, you can help alleviate some of the pressure experienced during these times. Take a deep breath and practice mindful breathing techniques to manage your emotional response.

It may also be helpful to shift from contemplating things that are beyond your control to engaging in a healthy activity that makes you feel better and helps put your mind at ease. Establishing a routine in your day-to-day dwelling can help balance some of the uncertainty and doubt of this pandemic. Suggested activities include, but are not limited to: exercising, meditating, reading, crafting, baking or sharing your concerns to someone close to you.

Staying connected to others while following the social distancing guidelines can provide another level of caring for your mental health. Virtual connections provide an opportunity to speak and video chat with friends, family and people whom you may not normally talk to on a reoccurring basis. This outlet provides space to share what is weighing on your mind and unpack your inner feelings, should you feel comfortable. If you do not have a smartphone or connection to the internet, you can always utilize the telephone to call others or write and mail letters to loved ones.

In addition to staying in touch with your loved ones, you should contact your physician to continue managing your mental health. Continuing treatment, therapy and support for your mental illness or behavioral health issues that you were doing prior to the COVID-19 pandemic will help keep you on track.

The Department of Human Services has disclosed that health care services are life sustaining and will remain open and available during this time. If you are not able to meet with your doctor through a face-to-face appointment, you can inquire about telehealth services. There have been expansions in telehealth to ensure that individuals in need can still access critical resources needed for recovery.

If the audio-video technology is unavailable, telehealth services can be provided over the phone. The department is working on ways to increase accessibility to medications from pharmacies to ensure individuals taking prescriptions can still get what they need. These telehealth services also include peer support services as well as drug and alcohol services, if these resources are applicable to you.

If you or a loved one feels isolated, please know that you are not alone. There are many people who share your uncertainty during this difficult time. If you are experiencing a mental health emergency including suicidal thoughts, I urge you to reach out for help. We are all in this crisis together and we will get through this challenging time. Help is only a phone call away. The SAMHSA Disaster Distress Line can be reached at 800-985-5990 or texting “TalkWithUs” to 66746. The Crisis Text Line is text “PA” to 741741. Optum Public Crisis Line: 866-342-6892. ••

Rep. Thomas P. Murt represents the 152nd Legislative District. Kailee Fisher contributed to this article.