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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an immense impact on our daily lives. Fear and anxiety over the new virus, loss of jobs or property, and major changes in lifestyle are all stressful for most people. Among this, ethnic minorities are suffering from both discrinimation and harassment, increasing the likeliness of developing or exacerbating mental health issues. 

To familiarize our community members with the mental health implications brought on by COVID-19 and to learn how to cope with them, we held our third session of our “Combating Anti-Asian Harrassment” series on July 23rd,  focusing on the mental health impacts of COVID-19. We were joined by guest speakers Shiyin Luo, a NYS licensed master social worker and a CAFAMH volunteer, as well as by Yuanyuan Hu, who is a NYS licensed clinical social worker and a CAPE Commonpoint Queens social worker. 

Key Highlights

How do mental health problems arise? 

The topic of mental health has been a popular topic in recent years. Mental health problems can result from many different aspects of our life including schools, work and family. During this particular moment, COVID-19 has created more mental stress for our communities. Unknown situations cause people to face fears and anxieties, and public health measures like social distancing and quarantine can cause people to feel isolated and lonely and may increase stress and anxiety. 

The mental health issues caused by COVID-19 can originate from several aspects including physical health, social isolation and loss of property or family members. Physical health can cause mental health issues through:

  • Pain or chronic illness that can lead to dysfunction which influences the individual’s identity and well-being.
  • People in older age groups and those with chronic diseases are at higher risk of getting infected, which leads to increased stress.
  • People can get infected with COVID-19 and suffer from its side effects like cardiovascular, respiratory or nervous systems problems. 

Simultaneously, self-quarantine and social distancing can cause a feeling of isolation, which influence our daily life, commuting and some “non-essential” social interactions. While usual social support and contact between people has been reduced, causing stress from social isolation. 

Loss of property or family members is also a major pressure source. COVID-19 has caused experiences of loss and bereavement, often including the death of friends and family, as well as other losses such as jobs, autonomy, finances and various activities. It also disrupts daily activities such as dining, sleeping, shopping, partying, thereby preventing a balanced life and the maintenance of relationships.Overall, the outbreak of COVID-19 has felt like a threat for many, with more potential losses in the future. 

How can mental health problems affect my life? 

Mental health problems may not appear to be serious or fatal, but can impact our normal lives greatly through the anxiety, grief, and trauma they cause. 

COVID-19 and anxiety:

Anxiety is a normal response to uncertainty and toward factors that can harm us. For many of us, coronavirus has brought a lot of uncertainty to our lives and for our futures.Some common manifestations of anxiety include:

  • Emotional responses, such as worry and fear–expressed as focusing on worst case scenarios, difficulty concentrating, feeling fidgety, easily irritated, feeling blank.
  • Physiological responses, such as rapid heartbeat, cold sweat, headache, gastrointestinal discomfort, dizziness, frequent urination or diarrhea, shortness of breath, muscle tension, trembling, convulsions, fatigue, weakness and insomnia.

COVID-19 and grief:

Many of us have experienced feelings of grief during this COVID-19 pandemic. Grief is a normal response to dramatic changes in our daily lives and lifestyle. The manifestations of grief include anger, shock, denial, anxiety, lack of sleep and a loss of appetite. 

COVID-19 and trauma:

COVID-19 may threaten the lives of the people around us, which exposes us to acute traumatic stress. In our daily life, we may witness trauma through the media, which causes vicarious trauma to ourselves. We can also be directly traumatized by being infected or caring for a sick family member. These situations are exacerbated for ethnic minorities who suffer from discrimination, violence, marginalization and other traumatic events. All of which can lead to:

  • Recurrent trauma, intrusive memory and nightmares
  • Deliberate avoidance of places and people associated with the trauma
  • Negative effects on mood, loss of interest in activities one used to enjoy
  • Difficulty sleeping and excessive vigilance

Taking care of our mental health amidst COVID-19

When practicing social distancing and staying at home, we may experience stress from time to time that may not warrant a visit to a doctor. This is the ideal time to take care of our mental health and develop coping skills to deal with stress. Shiyin from CAFAMH provided simple methods we should consider when feeling stressed.

  • Slow down: We should tell ourselves to slow down and self-comfort through techniques such as breathing rhythmically for a few minutes when feelings of stress arise. For example: inhale for 2 seconds, hold your breath for 2 seconds and exhale for 2 seconds, then repeat.
  • Stop thinking: When unpleasant thoughts and pictures come to mind, try gently squeezing your arm and saying “stop” to yourself. This can be done along with a deep breath and thinking about calming images, such as beaches, lakes or mountains.
  • Find your own way: Everyone has a different way of decompressing so you should try something that suits you. If there are things you didn’t have a chance to do prior to the pandemic but always put off,  now is the time to start! 
  • Say it out loud: Expressing long-held emotions can improve your mood. Speak to family and friends, religious or local associations, family doctor, counselor, NYC WELL or the New York Mental Health Hotline (888-692-9355).
  • Move instead of staying still: We should take actions to increase the sense of control over our lives, such as preparing disaster supplies, making emergency plans, and volunteering in the community. We might feel helpless over the pandemic but we can feel better when we feel that we are in control of our lives.

These methods are useful in the self management of stress, however, further assistance may be needed when we cannot digest the emotions ourselves. Some of these resources may include speaking with a family doctor or visiting a psychological clinic. Counseling and medication are also methods used in managing mental health problems that arise.

Additional mental health resources include:

  • The Academy of Medical and Public Health Services
  • NYC Well: Visit or call 888-NYC-WELL (888-692-9355). 
    • Available 24/7
  • New York State COVID-19 Emotional Support Helpline at 844-863-9314 
    • 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week.
  • The Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
    • Available 24/7