My Journey By Michele Herenstein

Mental health has always been a problem in the United States, from anxiety to depression, eating disorders to mania, and delusions to schizophrenia. However, now that COVID-19 is in the picture, mental-health issues have gotten much, much worse. The first word that comes to my mind in the times of COVID is isolation.

Some people enjoy being alone, even cherish it. But the majority of people don’t flourish when alone, especially when they can’t leave their homes because of the virus. From singles to widows and widowers to people in nursing homes who aren’t allowed visitors, there are often lonely people who need to enjoy the people they love and experience the sense of touch, like a good hearty hug.

I’m a good example of someone who needs a hug, badly. Sometimes I cry, so in the need of physical touch. Not everyone needs physical contact as much as others. I’m one of those who thrive on physical contact. I feel like throwing a mini tantrum sometimes, but I do understand that I’m trying to keep others safe, and as a mature adult, I can’t cry over not getting a hug.

The Mayo Clinic staff discusses the effect of COVID on mental health. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, you may experience stress, anxiety, fear, sadness, and loneliness. And mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression, can worsen.” (“COVID and Your Mental Health,” mayoclinic.org)

There are “thousands of older adults who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 infection. Older adults have been instructed to limit face-to-face interactions with individuals outside their immediate household to protect themselves from the novel coronavirus. COVID-19 has forced many family members to end visits to parents and grandparents or stop visiting older loved ones at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

“The implementation of physical distancing is an essential step in reducing transmission of the virus. But in an effort to flatten the curve, physical distancing may be causing social isolation and loneliness. Although loneliness and social isolation can affect anyone regardless of age, the elderly are particularly vulnerable, especially under the current conditions of the pandemic.” (“The Unspoken COVID-19 Toll on the Elderly: Loneliness.”)

As anxious as some of us are, I think we need to do our best to help others. The irony is that we can’t get too close to other people in order to assist them or hug them. So we remain in pain as do the people we would so like to help.

Living in an apartment building, it’s hard to pass elderly people in the halls without stopping to say hello. Keeping social distance is difficult because many of them are hard of hearing. It makes you want to move closer. What is the answer? Get closer? Ignore people? I’m grappling with this dilemma right now, especially because I’m close to many of the elderly people in my building.

Mental Health America provides “Mental Health and COVID-19 Information and Resources” on their website. “As the number of cases of COVID-19 increases, so does the associated anxiety. For the general public, the mental-health effects of COVID-19 are as essential to address as are the physical health effects. And for the one in five who already have mental-health conditions — or the one in two who are at risk of developing them — we need to take personal, professional, and policy measures now to address them. To aid individuals and communities during this time, MHA has compiled a range of resources and information. You can learn more about mental health and COVID-19 from our blogs and webinars.”

I’ve always associated a broken heart with someone who went through a breakup, divorce, or any type of huge romantic loss. However, COVID-19, which seems to be taking over everything imaginable, has also caused “broken heart syndrome.”

According to and article in the Miami Herald, “Also known as stress cardiomyopathy, broken heart syndrome, which can resemble a heart attack with symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath, is usually not fatal and is temporary.”

“The causes of broken heart syndrome are not fully understood, but it’s widely believed that physically or emotionally stressful events can cause a spike in stress hormones in the body that block the heart’s ability to pump blood to throughout the body.”

It’s dangerous to fear going to your internist because while being terrified of COVID you might get some other physical illness but be too scared to go to the doctor’s office to have it checked out. This could be deadly.

“‘We estimated that 45.4% of U.S. adults are at increased risk for complications from coronavirus disease because of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory disease, hypertension, or cancer,’ according to a new analysis from the CDC. Those at elevated risk include 19.8% of people age 18 to 29 and 80.7% for people over age 80.” (“Here’s Who’s Dying from COVID-19 in the United States,” by Robert Roy Britt, Elemental).

Maybe we can try to do our best, not knowing when the virus will disappear. I understand not being able to hug, although this will be very difficult. In terms of talking to people experiencing severe isolation, we can’t sit closer or hold them in our arms, but we can assure them they’re safe, give them our e-mail and/or phone numbers, and make ourselves available to them as much as can be done during COVID.

Just like mask wearing is done for others, being there emotionally for other people is key to being a good human being. People often complain they don’t know how to help others. Here’s your chance! Be available emotionally. Not only for people who live alone, but for people who live among others but still feel lonely.

On Care.com Sheri Reed discusses 34 simple ways to help others during this pandemic. This will give you reading material and good information about ways to help.

I hope I gave you a taste of the isolation and severe loneliness that many people are now going through. Turn to friends, neighbors, rabbis, your internist, and so many others if you need to talk.

This virus will recede. Nothing lasts forever.

Michele Herenstein can be reached at msh61670@gmail.com

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