As COVID-19 threatens mental health, EVMS professor emphasizes finding ways to reduce stress


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — From the White House to Richmond, the nation’s leaders are sounding the alarm about how the coronavirus pandemic could claim even more lives.

Schools are closed, parents are working from home, and scores of people have lost their jobs. Mental health professionals say the nation faces a perfect storm in which the most vulnerable — children, senior citizens and those with mental health issues — could fall victim to violence.

Professionals are bracing for dangers that could threaten entire families.

“If kids are getting stressed, family members are getting stressed. They’re acting out, maybe they are not handling their stress level as well, and then you have caregivers who are also stressed out. It’s a storm for problems that can occur,” said Dr. Serina Neumann, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Eastern Virginia Medical School.

The coronavirus crisis also comes as mental health care systems are facing challenges. Some providers have less time for a growing number of people who need help. A report from Mental Health America shows more than 10 million adults in the U.S. have considered suicide.

Neumann is calling on the entire village to help those in need.

“We are all limited in the amount of time that we can spend with people, so we are trying to create these ‘extender’ types of resources by teaching other people in the community ways in which we can reduce the stress,” said Neumann.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the outbreak can take a heavy toll on older people and those with chronic diseases. There’s also heightened concern for children, and medical professionals who are helping with the response to COVID-19.

Neumann urges families to be on the lookout for stress-related changes in behavior. Those changes could include increased crying and problematic eating and sleeping behaviors

The CDC says if you want to harm yourself or others, call 911.

Neumann also has other tips for healthy coping during the COVID-19 pandemic in a recent article for EVMSPULSE.

In a recent press conference, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam also acknowledged the strain coronavirus and social distancing can put on Virginians. With schools closed, jobs lost and social distancing, the governor warned the increased stress can worsen existing health conditions and lead to depression, anxiety and an increase in domestic violence and substance abuse.

There’s also another number for help if you need it: 1-800-273-TALK – it’s the suicide prevention hotline.

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