There are times when we might sit back, close our eyes, and dream about living on an island.
No traffic or crowds. No workday stress. Catching fish with a rope net weaved from vines. Building a fire with palm leaves and drift wood. Putting your toes in the sand and letting the sun warm your face.
But when a friend the other day asked if it felt like we were living on an island, that’s not the image that came up.
The coronavirus pandemic —which casts the dark shadow of a high contagious, potentially fatal disease over our existence — has put us all on an island.
A physical one for sure. But in many ways, also a mental and emotional one.
And this island isn’t all sunshine and sandy beaches.
The coronavirus is the long, hard winter that won’t end. Our lives, the lives of our children, the lives of everyone around us, have changed forever.
Many people have lost their jobs or endured significant financial stress because of government isolation policies and business shutdowns. Some of us can’t afford basics like food and rent.
We’ve been cut off from our friends, coworkers and loved ones. Our kids can’t go to school and many of us can’t go to the office, places that contribute as much to our need for socialization as they do to any work product or education.
This time of year, high school and college seniors, who’ve worked so hard to achieve their educational goals, don’t even get to celebrate and bond with their friends at graduation ceremonies.
Pooh-pooh it if you will by comparing it to our other troubles, but milestones and ceremonies and shared experiences like these are an important part of our existence. We’re frustrated, annoyed, worried, bored and craving our old way of life.
For others, the island existence strikes deeper.
We’ve written about the additional emotional stress and physical danger on domestic violence victims. There are others with underlying mental health conditions who are also disproportionately affected by this unexpected and overwhelming upheaval in our world. Substance abuse, already a big problem, is getting worse during the pandemic.
The advice from mental health professionals is don’t ignore the impact of the pandemic on your life.
On Page D2 of today’s paper, we published a letter to the editor from a community educator with the Mental Health Association in Fulton and Montgomery counties, in which the writer discusses the importance of mental well-being, the stigma attached to mental health issues and the need to change the way we view mental health in our society.
We should have printed it in bright red letters.
We need to recognize the stress and strain this epidemic has put on our own mental health and those around us, and make sure we take steps to address it.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers some guidelines for coping with the covid crisis on its website, including information on how to identify the signs of stress; how to deal with your own stress; how to address issues with your children, other family members and those suffering from covid and other illnesses; and numerous resources where one can get help. The website is https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html#stressful.
The state Office of Mental Health also offers information and resources for dealing with mental health issues in the covid era, including toll-free hotlines and text contacts for emotional support, suicide prevention, substance abuse and domestic abuse. Visit: https://omh.ny.gov/.
While it sometimes feels like we’re all living on an island, we’re really not.
There are many resources available to help us cope with the mental and emotional strain of this pandemic, and many good people willing to help.
Don’t be too proud, too embarrassed or too afraid to reach out.