Staff Perspective: My Experience with Mental Illness and COVID-19

Staff Perspective: My Experience with Mental Illness and COVID-19

I was in the middle of a six-week stay at a residential treatment center for trauma and depression when I began to see stories in the local newspaper about a virus outbreak in China. I did not have any access to electronic devices, so this remained relatively low on my radar, especially while dealing with all the treatment I was participating in. No one seemed particularly concerned when I asked, “Did you see that story about a virus running rampant in China?”

Skip ahead a month and I am home, and COVID-19 is all anyone can talk about. I teleworked two of my four workdays before the virus appeared, so teleworking all four days has not been a big challenge for me technically. It has been a challenge, though, in maintaining my support systems that I set up while I was still inpatient. I no longer meet face-to-face with my therapist. I do meet over the telephone, but this is hard for me, because I am introvert who never fully mastered the art of having long phone conversations.

I started going to church while I was inpatient in my quest for a higher power. This brought me comfort, so when I got home I found a church I liked and started attending. Last week, the church stopped having live services. There is an online service, but again, it doesn’t feel quite the same.

I also started attending a 12-step program while in treatment. When I got home, I found a place that offered many meetings and I started attending some of those as well. Now that place has shuttered its doors. Although there are online meetings, I have not attempted one yet.

Here is the thing about having depression; you often don’t have the momentum to keep moving forward, to try something new when the first thing doesn’t work. It is hard to get out of bed in the morning, much less figure out how to get treatment in a new way. It is difficult to reach out to friends and family. It is a challenge to go to work, even if the commute is just down the hall.

This virus is a challenge for everyone. It is causing all of us untold stress and worry. It is hard for everyone to stay in their house and not socialize. I am very lucky. I have a supportive family, co-workers who understand my condition and the resources to get treatment. I worry for those who have not had all the benefits I have. It is hard for me to get through the day. If I didn’t have all that support, I don’t know what I would do with the added stress and roadblocks to treatment that COVID-19 has brought about.

Here are some things that I do find helpful: 

  • Limit how much I read, watch, or listen to stories about coronavirus. 
  • Walking my dogs. 
  • Texting with friends and family. I am trying to be extra diligent about reaching out to people I might not ordinarily text with both to stay connected and let them know I care about them. 
  • Once a week my adult children and gr  (or a similar app) andchild have a group chat on Facetime, Google Hangouts, or Zoom. 
  • Coloring mandalas in adult coloring books. 
  • Meditating with Headspace (or a similar app) daily
  • Keeping my work routine. I get up in the morning, put on real clothes, and clock in by the same time as I did when going to the office.

I urge you to reach out to people you know who may be suffering from depression. They may not have the wherewithal to reach out when they need help. A text or a phone call from a caring person may make all the difference. While this is always true, I believe it is especially true during this outbreak of COVID-19.

The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.

Janis Flemming is a project manager for the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) in Bethesda, Maryland.