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The coronavirus (COVID-19) has resulted in an unprecedented crisis that affects not only our physical health and daily lives, but also our mental health. To address these needs, NAMI is committed to providing credible information and resources to help people navigate through this crisis. In this guide, you will find answers to questions ranging from how to manage anxiety during this difficult time, to how to access medication while in quarantine, to how to deal with the loss of a loved one to COVID-19.
Throughout our 40-year history, NAMI has fought stigma and discrimination that marginalizes people with mental illness and poses barriers to their well-being. Today, we continue that proud tradition and stand in solidarity with those communities disproportionally affected by COVID-19 and Asian-American communities whose members have been subjected to unjust hostility in the wake of the pandemic.
In the pursuit of our mission, NAMI will continue disseminating fact-based information and dispelling myths. And most importantly — we remain committed to serving all.
Equip yourself with information from credible, reputable sources
The Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) [En Español] offers information and frequent updates on COVID-19’s spread, severity, risk assessment, etc.
The World Health Organization (WHO) [En Español] is the leading international public health organization. They direct global health responses and offer resources on COVID-19. They also provide many of their resources in a variety of languages.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has extensive research-based information on COVID-19
The League of United Latin American Citizens, an organization dedicated to advocating for Latinxs in the United States, has a FAQ guide [En Español] about COVID-19.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also offers COVID-19 resources.
Be mindful of and stop stigma
False information has created or worsened prejudice which can lead to discrimination against groups of people, especially people of Asian descent.
Be aware of scams and fraud
Be careful of COVID-19-related scams and fraud. The Federal Trade Commission has tips to help you identify COVID-19 scammers [En Español].
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If you are sick, do not go to work. Tell your employer that you must not expose customers or coworkers to your illness. Stay at home.
More federal guidelines:
If you are not sick and must leave your home to work, the CDC has general guidelines for protecting yourself [En Español].
It’s common to feel stressed or anxious during this time. It may be especially hard for people who already manage feelings of anxiety or emotional distress. For example, for those of us with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), public health recommendations about contamination and hand washing may make it more difficult to manage our symptoms.
Recognizing how you’re feeling can help you care for yourself, manage your stress and cope with difficult situations. Even when you don’t have full control of a situation, there are things you can do.
Below we describe how to stay informed, take action, maintain healthy social connections and find resources for support.
Manage how you consume information
Equip yourself with information from credible, reputable sources such as the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Be selective about how you consume news. It’s generally a good idea to stay engaged and informed. Having some limits on your news consumption can help:
Follow healthy daily routines as much as possible
Your daily habits and routines can help you feel more in control of your own well-being.
Even simple actions can make a difference:
Take care of yourself through exercise and movement
If you’re staying home, you may be less physically active than usual. It’s important to keep movement as part of your daily life, whether it’s exercise or light movement like stretching and making sure you’re not sitting down too long.
Exercise is a great way to care for your body. It is a powerful way to improve both your physical and mental health. Research suggests that when we exercise, our brain releases chemicals that help us better manage stress and anxiety.
Find out more about the link between exercise and mental health:
There are many different ways to exercise. Many of them are free, don’t require any equipment and can be done at home. Most people can find an exercise routine that fits their needs and abilities. If you don’t typically exercise or have health concerns, you may want to talk with your primary care provider before starting a new activity.
Some ideas of how to move more:
Practice relaxing in the present moment
Mindfulness is a way of practicing awareness that can reduce your stress. It involves focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgment. It may also help people manage some mental health symptoms.
Many medical organizations support mindfulness as a research-based way to lower your stress and boost your physical and emotional health:
There are lots of online resources about mindfulness, meditation, breathing exercises and more. Some organizations, including yoga studios, offer free classes online as well. Grounding exercises can help you notice the sights, sounds, smells and sensations around you rather than being absorbed in your thoughts.
Do meaningful things with your free time
When you can, do things that you enjoy and that help you relax.
Stay connected with others and maintain your social networks.
Physical distancing (also called social distancing) can change how you usually interact with people you care about. Doing this is essential to lessening the impact of COVID-19.
There are many ways you can build a feeling of connection, even if you can’t see people in person or go places you usually would:
Find mental health resources
Being in contact with people who can relate to your experiences can be helpful. It can help you learn information, find resources that suit you and feel supported by people who understand.
NAMI has partnered with the CDC Foundation’s “How Right Now” initiative to encourage adaptability and resiliency throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. HowRightNow.org offers resources in both English and Spanish to address feelings of grief, loss and worry by increasing coping skills and providing strategies for reducing negative behaviors.
Gather information about ways you can get help in a mental health emergency or when you want immediate support:
Being quarantined or isolated is difficult. While you may not have in-person access to support groups, mental health providers and other support systems, there are online resources that can help.
Find support over the phone
A warmline is a confidential, non-crisis emotional support telephone hotline staffed by volunteers. To find a warmline that serves your area, visit the NAMI Helpline Warmline Directory in the NAMI Resource Library.
Explore online support communities
Listings of online support groups
Connect to a spiritual or religious community
Connecting with a spiritual or religious community can be helpful to find strength and consolation in times of distress, loss, grief and bereavement.
Give back if you can
Other mental health articles and tools
This is unknown. Talk to your provider if you have any concerns about any medications you take and whether they may affect your immune system. Stopping or changing medications is an important decision you should only make in consultation with your doctor.
People living with mental illness have a high rate of smoking. In America, 44.3% of all cigarettes are consumed by individuals who live with mental illness and/or substance use disorders. People with schizophrenia are three to four times as likely to smoke as the general population.
Smoking weakens your lung’s natural ability to defend you from illness. People who smoke tobacco or marijuana may be at greater risk of getting seriously ill with COVID-19. COVID-19 is a disease that mostly affects the lungs.
What you can do
If you smoke, consider quitting smoking immediately. There are also steps you can take to smoke less frequently.
As of December 2020, there are now two vaccines approved to prevent infection. Building on decades of conceptual work, these vaccines have been rated as highly effective with few side effects. More vaccines are expected in the coming months. This is a fast-moving field so be sure to connect with the CDC webpage as more vaccines are approved and as we learn more about them.
For many other illnesses, vaccines have saved millions of lives. Vaccines are very important as part of a strategy to combat infectious diseases.
No. The science underlying this has been building for more than 20 years. The use of messenger RNA (mRNA) to fight infections was considered for other viral infections but this is the first vaccine model to be developed on this groundbreaking platform.
No. They do not give you the whole virus at all. The vaccine activates a response that confers an immune response to the part of the virus that attaches to human cells. The vaccine teaches your body to be ready for the virus. The vaccine activates a response to the spike protein on the COVID-19 virus, the part of the virus that attaches to cells. You cannot get the illness from these vaccines and are very likely to be able to fight off the virus because your immune system has been trained to fight it.
Here is one way to think about it. Let’s say the virus itself is a suitcase. People can hand a suitcase to each other, and this is how the virus gets spread though close contact, particularly in indoor spaces. Imagine the full blown viral attack on your body requires the entire suitcase of chemicals opened and your body (usually the nose) picks it up. The current two vaccines essentially prevent you from picking up the "handle” of the suitcase. This is why the success rates are so high for the vaccine.
The new vaccines also turn our attention to basic questions about fairness and trust in vaccines in general. There is evidence that many Americans do not trust vaccines, and that number is higher among people of color. There has been significant discrimination against people of color in medical and public health research and several unethical studies of people of color in medical history.
Acknowledging this reality is one key step in a larger education process to encourage all communities, including communities of color, to get this potentially life-saving vaccine.
While there is no perfect infection-prevention strategy, wearing masks, washing your hands and staying away from gatherings are safe moves. Walking or biking outside are relatively low-risk activities. Wear a mask for these, too.
People who have multiple medical problems are at higher risk of bad outcomes if they get infected. Work with your medical provider to problem-solve what would be best for you. For example, be sure to proactively attend to your risks such as diabetes, high blood pressure and respiratory issues. Over-the-counter Vitamin D is something to evaluate. Ask your provider if you would benefit from supplements of this kind or for other treatments or strategies.
If you have a respiratory condition, like asthma, ask your provider if you might benefit from an inexpensive pulse oximeter, which can be found at a local pharmacy. That will help you detect so called “silent hypoxia.” The virus often impacts lung function before people are aware, which is another challenging feature of this virus.
Having health insurance is essential for people with mental health conditions to get the right care at the right time.
Find health insurance you can afford
We recommend you use Healthcare.gov to see if you qualify for affordable options.
Choose between health plan options
There are lots of factors to consider when choosing a health plan:
I can’t get health insurance, but I need treatment immediately. What can I do?
There are organizations that offer health care at low cost, on a sliding scale or for free, under certain conditions.
Because it’s important to stay home as much as possible, please call first with your concerns, whether or not you feel sick and even if you want to be tested for COVID-19. The health center may do patient assessments over the phone or using telehealth (online). You should also call first to find out whether COVID-19 screening and testing is available. If COVID-19 testing is available, people who are uninsured can get it for free.
Ways to get treatment without health insurance:
Healthcare access information for immigrant communities
How to access health care:
Concerns about immigration status:
Finding Latinx/culturally competent providers:
Many pharmacies offer free delivery to your home or may be adding this option during COVID-19. This should allow you to get your medications without leaving your home. Call your pharmacy and ask about this option.
Ask your health care provider about getting a longer-term supply of your medications. It may be helpful to get a 90-day supply rather than your usual 60- or 30-day supply. You need permission from your provider to make this change.
If you take antipsychotic or antidepressant medication, ask your provider or pharmacist before taking any over-the-counter cold or flu medications. Some of these medications are incompatible or have contraindications you should be aware of first.
If the mental health provider who normally provides your long-acting injectable medication is closed, ask one of the retail chain pharmacies in your community if they are providing this service in their pharmacy.
Structure can help us feel more stable. When your work routine changes, it may help to create other routines that mirror what you’d usually do. Having rituals and routines in the morning can be a good way to start your day. Try activities that are healthy for your body and mind, like a walk (if you can), exercise, meditation, journaling and eating breakfast.
General financial assistance
Assistance with medical care/hospital bills
Assistance with prescription medication
Assistance with accessing food
Small business assistance
Losing a loved one can be deeply painful, and you deserve support. The types of gatherings and social experiences that many people would usually have after the death of a loved one are often not possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s important to seek alternative types of support. Your mental health is especially important when experiencing loss or grief.
Many funeral homes and faith communities are offering new virtual ways to connect, and many local organizations offer grief support services. A good place to start is to contact your local NAMI affiliate through find your local NAMI.
Additional options include:
Visit the NAMI Online Knowledge Center to learn about creating a long-term care plan for a loved one living with a serious mental illness.
Lacking a consistent or safe place to live or experiencing homelessness can make some elements of the COVID-19 outbreak especially difficult.
If you don’t have consistent or safe housing, it may be more difficult for you to self-quarantine or shelter in place. Some living situations can also make it harder to access the resources you need to maintain your hygiene and protect your physical and mental health.
Resources for help and information:
While staying at home is critical to slowing the spread and severity of COVID-19, not everyone feels safe in their home. Various organizations can provide confidential support for people who feel unsafe or for people who are concerned about someone else’s safety.
The COVID-19 pandemic is causing significant challenges for the criminal justice system. Because of high rates of incarceration and overcrowding in some jails and prisons, facilities may not always be able to follow the CDC’s guidance for “social distancing” and increased hygiene practices. However, law enforcement leaders are taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their facilities. Parole and probation departments in every state are also making adjustments to reduce contact.
If your loved one is incarcerated, here is some information about how to stay connected and support them during this difficult time.
Visitation and staying in contact
To try to protect people who are incarcerated from having contact with the virus, nearly all state and federal prisons and many jails have temporarily stopped visitations. Some facilities are letting people have longer phone/video calls to help keep families in contact.
To make sure your loved one can contact you:
Creating alternatives to incarceration in prisons/jails
In an effort to reduce the number of people in prisons/jails, some jurisdictions are taking action to release individuals from incarceration early or to release people to home confinement.
Local law enforcement agencies are diverting many people away from jail and into community-based services. These policies vary depending on the state, county and jurisdiction.
Access to health care
People who are incarcerated have constitutional protections under the Eighth Amendment. These include the right to medical care/attention as needed to treat both short-term conditions and long-term illnesses. The medical care provided must be “adequate.” Communicating with jail/prison administration is important to getting adequate care. People who are incarcerated and their families should communicate early and as soon as possible about health history and concerns.
If a person is not receiving adequate care, their caregivers and family may be their best advocates:
This is a difficult time for families of those who are incarcerated. Information may be limited, but the following organizations below are working to provide up-to-date information and support to families.
U.S. Immigration And Customs Enforcement (ICE) has published that they are using new guidelines [En Español] concerning people who are currently being detained.
The new protocols include:
If a person is not receiving adequate care while being detained, their families and caregivers may be their best advocate:
It’s normal to feel worried about your child’s mental health as you send them back to school. Especially as kids face the uncertainty, change in routine, social isolation and fears that go along with this pandemic.
While these experiences can be challenging, there are things you can do to support your child’s mental and emotional well-being when returning to school, whether it’s virtually, in person or both.
Circumstances and guidelines around the pandemic are constantly changing, and your plans may also need to change rapidly or unexpectedly.
It’s important to read through your school’s plan first, taking the time to ask questions, gather details and fully understand what this plan will look like for your family, including:
Before talking to your child, take the time you to need to accept and plan for this new experience. You may need to talk with your employer about anything you need that allows you to support your child’s school plan. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides legal protections when caring for children during COVID-19.
If you are clear and calm about your child going back to school, they are less likely to feel stressed and anxious.
Start by sharing the information that is most relevant to them. For example, “Your school is going to do classes virtually for the next six weeks. Your teacher is going to send us some information about what your school day will look like. Do you have any questions?” Then, give them the time and space to discuss it with you.
It’s also important to ask your child to share how they’re feeling about going back to school. Phrase questions neutrally, such as “How are you feeling about school starting?” rather than making assumptions through questions such as “Are you nervous about school starting again?” Then, listen carefully to what they share with you.
Additionally, don’t try to solve things before hearing what their concerns are. Wait to see if they can come up with their own solutions. If they express worry or fear, ask, “What, specifically, are you worried about?” and address these concerns. If you aren’t sure how to address the concerns they shared, contact their school for help.
Finally, ask your child what would help them feel more comfortable. If they don’t have an immediate answer, let them know that they can share ideas with you later.
Here are three steps to prepare your child for school in person.
Here are three steps to prepare your child for school virtually.
Having a routine helps children of all ages, whether they’re going to school in person or virtually. Some key routines include:
Write the schedule down and display it somewhere easy to see. With younger children, invite them to create the schedule with you by drawing or coloring. With older children, get them their own planner or calendar to use. Although our phones can be helpful for scheduling, it's better not to rely only on them. Writing on paper has been shown to help people understand and retain information better.
This is a difficult and stressful environment for your child to receive an education, but with support and resources, you can be there for them every step of the way.
Reference: Meghan Walls, PsyD, Pediatric Psychologist, Nemours/Al duPont Hospital for Children, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Thomas Jefferson University
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