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Neurological Disorders

How We Can Support People Struggling With Mental Health

Teri Brister

National Director of Research and Quality Assurance, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting everyone, from children figuring out virtual learning, to the elderly who are at highest risk, and everyone in between.

We are all vulnerable, not only to the virus itself, but also to the mental health implications of this situation — including the emotional and psychological trauma that comes with the loss of a loved one, social and physical isolation from friends and family, economic hardship, and even loss of homes and jobs. 

During this time of collective hardship, we can’t underestimate the life-changing impact that getting mental health care early can have on our quality of life. 

Many people don’t know that half of all mental illnesses begin by age 14 and that, on average, eight to 10 years will pass between the beginning of symptoms to the time a person seeks help for their symptoms. When people have access to treatment and care early, they have an easier time learning to cope with challenges created by the symptoms of mental health conditions. 

Silver lining

The current global pandemic has increased the awareness and acceptance that mental health vulnerabilities are normal human vulnerabilities that can affect all of us. 

It’s important to be aware of warning signs that we’re having issues, and how to respond in a supportive way when people we care about are struggling. By doing this, we not only reduce stigma, but we also help access needed resources and support sooner.

Common Warning Signs:

  • Feeling sad for more than two weeks
  • Thoughts of self-harm 
  • Risk-taking behaviors that cause harm 
  • Overwhelming fear, racing heartbeat, headaches, or stomach aches
  • ​Changes in appetite
  • Changes in mood, behavior, personality, or sleeping habits
  • Extreme difficulty concentrating 
  • Excessive use of alcohol or drugs
  • Seeing, hearing, or believing things that aren’t real 

Supportive Ideas:

  • Educate yourself about some of the basics of the symptoms of and treatments for mental health conditions
  • Understand that mental illness is like any other physical illness — it’s no one’s fault 
  • Discuss the feelings you or your loved one are experiencing
  • Offer help and support to find resources
  • Don’t give up — it may take time to be comfortable opening up

If you or a loved is experiencing mental health issues or challenges, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is here to help with the NAMI HelpLine (1-800-950-6264) that can help you find local resources. Our NAMI Basics OnDemand program is a free class for parents and other family caregivers that provides shared understanding from people who understand your situation. 

No one is alone in the struggle brought on by this pandemic, and NAMI is here to help so no one feels alone in that struggle.

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