May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and there’s never seemed a more appropriate time to shine the spotlight on this paramount topic. One in five U.S. adults experiences mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). And as we all adjust to mounting stressors during these unsettling coronavirus pandemic days, these Seattle-area organizations offer mental health resources and tips that can help us feel less alone.
Katie Mahoney, program manager at NAMI Seattle, shares that, from March into April, their helpline phone calls, emails and text messages actually dropped by about 50%.
“This was unexpected, but not strange, considering that people were more likely to be in need of crisis management or basic needs assistance during the early stages of the pandemic, and going straight to direct services,” Mahoney said.
However, they anticipated an uptick in helpline calls as things unfolded; and indeed, correspondence in early May has been steadily on the rise.
“The pandemic is having — and will continue to have — a huge and lasting impact on our mental health and access to services,” Mahoney said.
Mahoney acknowledges that, currently, most of us experience some level of anxiety, plus feelings of lack of control and safety. Folks who already manage such emotions regularly know that routine and structure can be useful tools; unfortunately, the current situation often makes those seem impossible.
Mahoney advised, “Recognizing how you’re feeling and doing what you can to create pockets of structure, comfort and connection can help you take care of yourself and cope with difficult situations. Even when you don’t have full control of a situation — which none of us do right now! — there are things you can do.”
So what are some first steps? Mahoney points to some frequently cited ideas, from maintaining a routine and getting enough sleep to eating healthful foods and prioritizing physical activity. Yet she offers other suggestions, too.
“First off, remember that social distancing does not mean social isolation,” Mahoney said. “You don’t need to fill your schedule with Zoom happy hours and group chats; regular phone calls to a close friend or two will do.”
When it comes to the health benefits of social connectedness, it’s the quality — not quantity — of interactions that matter. This could also mean attending an online support group (namiseattle.org/covid-19) or connecting with strangers (leave a kind note for a neighbor, or volunteer remotely for a community organization).
NAMI also recommends limiting your news consumption. Repeatedly digesting information about a situation beyond one’s control can increase feelings of anxiety and powerlessness. “Try giving yourself a couple of 15-minute blocks each day for news updates from trusted sources,” said Mahoney, “and let the rest go.” Another suggestion from NAMI: find yourself some “resilience role models” — people in current or past situations of adversity, whose actions help keep the pandemic in perspective.
“In a crisis,” Mahoney said, “we often react based on how we see others reacting.”
Another Seattle-based company focused on mental health, Brook, has paused monthly fees to help those struggling to stay healthy during this crisis. Founder Oren Nissim explained that his company opened its Brook Personal Health Companion services to everyone, since the stress-management component of the app seems especially relevant now. Nissim said it didn’t feel right to potentially add to anyone’s financial burdens. (Typically, the app costs $25 monthly, or is available through health insurance.) “We’re able to figure out how to cover costs to make this available to as wide an audience as possible,” he said.
Over the last couple of months, the company has seen more than 60% growth. Not only have many new users signed up, but preexisting participants have interacted with the app more frequently, too. Although Nissim initially launched Brook in relation to his Type 2 diabetes diagnosis, he says that their offerings stretch far beyond the medical piece.
“In essence,” he said, “we are really looking at the whole person from a holistic viewpoint.”
While the Brook app has nutrition and activity at its core, stress is another major component; the company views users’ emotional well-being as part of their overall health. The app can access your smartphone to log steps and sleep patterns, and users can chat with experts to get personalized feedback on subjects like nutritional choices or breathing and meditation practices. (Find the app on Apple or via Google Play.)
Nissim’s team has noticed an increase in users seeming down or off-balance, even if they can’t ascribe a name to those feelings. Brook’s services also address pertinent topics like grief and loss. “We are all grieving right now about all sorts of things,” Nissim said. (He mentions missing Monday mornings even, something he may have complained about in the past.) The app offers both quick-release methods and lengthier options — like a weeklong stress-management program. “Even now that we have less of a routine, when do you actually have time to think about your own wellness?”
If you’re looking for a tranquil escape provided by local talents, visit The Musical Mountaineers’ new channel on Insight Timer, a platform that offers 45,000 free guided meditations.
Throughout the year, KEXP dedicates programming to addressing depression and anxiety, and also focuses on addiction and recovery issues. Listeners can also take advantage of music’s healing powers, along with KEXP DJ John Richards’ daily morning reminders: “You are not alone.” KEXP.org lists an extensive roundup of resources, ranging from the free, 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) and Crisis Text Line, to Washington programs like Mary’s Place, Seattle Counseling Service and Recovery Café.
Above all else, know that reaching out for support is absolutely, always OK.