By Emily Vera
As I sit down to type these words, partially composed in my mind in a rare quiet moment of predawn wakefulness, I hear my 9-year-old son make the sound of an air raid siren, loudly and with perfect pitch. The girls scream and run for cover, and the noise awakens my 8-month-old baby from her morning nap with a wail. I let her fuss in her crib for a few moments, so I can finish the sentence with a deep breath and what feels like a herculean effort to focus. As I consider the interruptions that have become an everyday part of my “home office” — a desk nestled in the corner of my dining room and cluttered with the detritus of the most chaotic year I have ever experienced — I realize three things.
First, my situation is in no way unique. There are countless other families around the country, and indeed the world, who have suddenly been thrown into a mishmash of virtual learning and working from home, and we’ve had to pivot and learn to work in innovative, and often not ideal, ways. For many of us, this feels like a crisis that has been going on for the last nine months.
Secondly, I am extremely lucky. My husband and I have both been able to continue working. We are healthy, and we haven’t lost any family members to the virus.
Lastly, countless other families around the country, and indeed the world, have not been so fortunate. As officials attempt to balance public safety, the functioning of the health care system and major economic concerns, individuals are left reeling as businesses scramble to work remotely, furlough and lay off employees and, sometimes, shut down altogether. Job loss and isolation caused by the pandemic have already taken a toll, as rates of overdose soar, and suicide hotlines are busier than ever. Many families are waiting with fear in their hearts as loved ones battle the virus in the hospital, or are grieving those who have been lost. It’s safe to say that this is a year that has challenged the mental health of our entire community — here, there and everywhere!
So as 2020 comes to a close and we look ahead to 2021, it is important that each of us resolves to prioritize our mental health in the year to come. Even if you’re not a person who likes resolutions or this year has just been too different for you to consider making one, resolving to prioritize mental health is something that we can all do and that can only improve the year to come.
Resolutions themselves can actually improve our health if they include realistic, doable goals. In fact, they can be done regularly all throughout the year to replace bad habits with good ones. For example, something as simple as disconnecting from your screens and walking outside once a day can improve your mental health. Not only is it good for you, but the very act of resolving to meet a goal and then meeting it will give your brain a boost.
Another way of bolstering our brain health is to find gratitude every day, and one way to do this is to look for lessons learned during difficult circumstances and apply them to our lives. For example, finding silver linings in the difficulties caused by the pandemic can help us feel more grateful as we walk into 2021. For me, slowing down the pace of life and exercising patience has been both necessary this year and an area of growth that I want to continue to foster. I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to spend extra time with my children, and it has certainly required me to grow!
Another way we can prioritize our mental health is to check in with our brains regularly — taking an online screening at screening.mentalhealthscreening.org/mhainde is one way to do this. If you screen positive for depression, anxiety, addiction or another mental health disorder, there has never been a better time to access mental health assistance through telehealth. If you have health insurance, you can call the number on your card or search your online database to find out which providers are in your network. Counseling, medication or a combination of the two is effective to help you feel better. If you are uninsured, there are resources that can help. You can call a state mental health center or call the Mental Health Association in Delaware at 654-6833 or visit its website at mhainde.org.
Support and connection are also essential in keeping your brain healthy. If you suffer from depression or anxiety, sign up for a virtual wellness group at mhainde.org/about/support-group-schedule. Make time to connect with family and friends virtually, outside or in other safe ways. Know that you are not alone and that help is available.
If you are thinking about suicide, call (800) 273-8255 or text 741741 to connect with someone who can help.
Sometimes, helping others can also help us to take our mind off our own suffering and give us a purpose and hope. While some opportunities to volunteer may have changed, there are still plenty of ways to be of service to others, such as donating to local food banks, dropping off care packages to neighbors or writing letters to people who are elderly or otherwise isolated right now. Supporting small businesses and nonprofits is also especially meaningful during this time.
This year has not been an easy one, but with support from one another and optimism in our hearts, we can all hope for a happier and healthier 2021.
Emily Vera is executive director of the Mental Health Association in Delaware, which seeks to improve the mental wellbeing of Delawareans through advocacy, education and support.