Protect Your Mental Health Through the Pandemic
Over 1,200 parents, primarily Mothers (95%) have participated in the pandemic study since March 30th. They’ve shared how the prolonged lockdown has strained everything, including their mental health.
“(I need) some time to myself without kids or chores. For my mental health.”
“I just started taking Lexapro and that was a life saver…”
“Marijuana/cbd oil. I have ptsd, depression, and anxiety. These things help my mood.”
“I’m with my family 24/7. We could all use a break from each other.”
Without support, basic self-care like sleep and continuity of thought, are almost impossible for parents. And with the increased mental load, monotony and erosion of work/life boundaries, anxiety and depression continue to rise. It’s maddening to be needed all the time. Or to work without breaks. Although stress continues to peak, there are strategies we can employ to support our mental health through Covid.
Routines to Manage Stress Are Gone
“(I need) breaks. Naps. Dates with my husband. Play dates with friends. To see someone during the day that isn’t my child. To be able to go somewhere that isn’t my house.”
“… We have no outlets anymore. No long drives or dinners or lunches or adventures with the baby at a playplace or park. The tension only builds…”
Dr. Nicole C. Brathwaite, Psychiatrist, Activist and Entrepreneur said, “Many of the things that used to be easier are now complex. And there’s been an increase in complaints about depression, anxiety, fear and uncertainty about the future.” Many daily rituals we took for granted served as buffers against stress. Nicole explained, “Sometimes, the train ride to work is that moment to deescalate and calm down. Or, maybe you would normally go out to dinner with friends or on vacation before school starts. And people don’t have those moments anymore.”
And Mental Health is Suffering
Mental health is a prominent theme in 3 areas of the study. When parents are asked:
what has been the hardest, what they need for their wellbeing and for their productivity. Managing anxiety, depression, loneliness and waning motivation are threads woven into the fabric of pandemic life.
Here’s what we’ve learned about mental health needs from the parents who participated March 30th through November 6th:
Without Personal Time or Rest
“Some time to myself because I am super stressed”
“Time away from the house without my kids. I need alone time with no expectations.”
“(I need) free time away from the kids, more sleep, time to do things that aren’t focused on kids, work, or household needs.”
“Something to help me sleep. Lots of anxiety keeping me up at night.”
And Space to Themselves
“A room in Wildwood just for some peacefulness.”
“(I need) my own space. 12 hours without someone touching me.”
“A quiet room just to collect my thoughts throughout the day.”
Parents are Withering From Untenable Schedules
“…I feel so distracted and frustrated.”
“…Time to myself, help with the children, help with the house, help with remote learning, more concrete plans for school, and more understanding and support from my work.”
And Many Need Mental Health Support for Themselves
“(I need) mental health leave.”
“Talk Therapy. I feel I would benefit from having someone to speak with regarding the state of the world outside of my immediate family.”
And for Their Children
“I now have childcare, but we need a better child therapist to help through transitions.”
“Managing my oldest child ‘s anxiety over all of the changes it has improved but she is still very aware of the ongoing world hardships.”
“(I have) less access to services for my two autistic preschoolers such as speech, ot, pt, feeding, aba, and social play group therapies.”
But Access to Professional Help Is Uneven
Nicole said, “We have this common experience of Covid. People of Color are also managing the pandemic of racism. And in some ways, it’s positive because there’s greater recognition of the need for mental health support and mental health services. The problem is that the resources aren’t keeping up with this new realization. And because of Covid, professionals may be less available than they were previously. There are a lot of hospital clinics that are not able to see people in person or that have had to cut funding. However, tele psychiatry may be a treatment option.”
Less access during a global mental health crisis is a big concern. Nicole added, “It’s even more challenging for parents who are looking for providers for their children.” There aren’t easy solutions but there are workarounds we can use to reduce stress.
Peer Support Can Effective
Nicole said, “I have been recommending people utilize their peer network. And some are developing a very structured or semi-structured group that meets on a regular basis to offer peer support. It doesn’t replace the professional mental health services but it can be a nice bridge until you’re able to get the professional help that you need.”
She added, “I am in a WhatsApp support group with friends and the only purpose of it, is for somebody to reach out and say, ‘I’m having a really rough day.’ So people will have to become more creative to try to fill the gap until additional services are available.” Yes! As parents we already excel at creative problem solving. But when we’re in demand, for each role we play, it may be difficult to set boundaries.
And Setting Limits Protect Energy
Nicole said, “Anxiety is increasing because people are isolated in their homes and they don’t have the outlets that they would normally use to relieve stress.” Although we can’t control the pandemic, we can become aware and selective with our choices.
She said, “Guard your time, guard your energy, guard your personal space and be very intentional about who and what you let into your space.” Wise. She explained, “Many people watch the news without realizing how negative it is and how much it’s impacting them. I’ll have patients or even friends tell me after watching the news, they feel more irritable, edgy or they feel like they have this weight and they can’t really identify why.”
Start Saying ‘No’ More Often
As we crumble under the mounting obligations, setting boundaries at home and work are critical. Nicole said, “I always tell people ‘no’ is a full sentence. And what good are we, if we’re not able to give ourselves time to rejuvenate and recover?” Amen. She added, “We can’t keep pouring from an empty glass, at some point there’s nothing left. Self-care doesn’t have to be a massage or doing a big thing, it can be 20 or 30 minutes that you take to yourself doing something that builds you.”
Unfortunately, surveyed parents, desperate to find extra time, have abandoned most self-care activities.
And Begin to Say ‘Yes’ to Self-Care
Nicole suggested, “Insert positive and edifying experiences that build your self-worth, confidence and give you a better sense of control. I love adult coloring! So, I color at least 20 or 30 minutes a night, I’m obsessed with it! I have all different kinds of markers and gel pens, it’s become my thing. I color pictures that I find beautiful so, I have a ton of coloring books with African beads and motivational statements. The images and the words are encouraging. But it’s also a very positive experience that allows me to be mindful and in the moment. I’m very intentional that this is my time.” Brilliant!
The mental healthcare crisis was a threat to our wellbeing long before Covid. But it’s worse now. As one surveyed Mom shared, most parents crave “….quiet time to decompress.” But in the past three months, more parents have also cited loneliness as a source of stress or sadness.
In the pandemic, the best strategy we have to manage our mental wellness is vigilance over our personal time and energy. And we can begin to value space for ourselves in addition to wellbeing for our families.
Share your experiences of how life has changed during social distance, it’s quick and the results from this study will be used to advocate better support for parents.
Dr. Nicole Christian-Brathwaite, MD is a Board Certified Adult and Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. She has significant clinical experience with adults, children, adolescents, transitional and college aged youth. After graduating from University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, she joined the Adult Psychiatry Residency Program and then completed fellowship in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship at Massachusetts General/Mclean Hospital. She is the Senior Vice President and Medical Director of Scheduled Services at InSight Telepsychiatry. She is also the Founder of Well Minds Psychiatry and the Co-Founder of SecureMeLink, a safety app to support the health and safety of clinicians and medical staff.
Nicole regularly provides radio interviews and speaks to the community about mental health and wellness, particularly in African American communities. Dr. Christian-Brathwaite is a member of the Advisory Board for the Post Partum Depression Fund of Massachusetts. Dr. Nicole Christian-Brathwaite is a member of the Board of Directors for Families for Depression Awareness and servers as Clinical Consultant to Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Lesley University, William James College, Massachusetts School Administrators Association and numerous other public and private schools and universities.