New Focus on Mental Health as We Navigate COVID-19 Recovery

Monday, May 04, 2020 | 11:35am

The following Op-ed is from Marie Williams, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services

As the calendar turns to May, our awareness month for mental health arrives with new emphasis.  It is true that we all have mental health, and as our normal has been upended over the last two months, we all have become keenly aware of that.  The social distancing measures necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19 have increased feelings of anxiety, isolation, fear, despair, and even depression in many people.  Whether you are an essential worker on the front lines of the crisis, a parent suddenly juggling a child’s education and your job, a student who’s missing classmates or graduation, or a person longing for the human contact we all crave, this new normal does not feel normal.

No matter where you are in life right now, it is important to know this: it’s OK to not feel OK.

As businesses reopen and we attempt to find balance in the weeks and months ahead, being mindful of our personal mental health and that of those around us is essential.  I would like to invite you to focus on three strategies: Find your center, practice patience, and maintain connection through communication.

Finding your center, that activity that is calming and grounding, is a priceless coping strategy.  Spending quiet time in meditation and spiritual practice, going for a walk in the sunshine, video chatting with a friend or relative, taking a long bath, popping in your earbuds and jamming to your favorite music – what is the one thing you know you can do that helps you find balance and return to stressful situations with a clear head?  We make better decisions when we have a clear view of the situation around us.

When centered, we are also better able to extend grace and practice patience with those around us.  While its common to hear “We’re all in this together“ the reality is that you never know what someone is going through.  Wearing a mask in the checkout line at the grocery store, sitting on a video conference for work, or trying to make sense of a middle schooler’s math problems, patience is paramount as we get through this.

Connect through communication.  If you are having a tough time, please reach out and speak up.  Call a friend, Facetime with a relative, or jump on a videoconference with your coworkers.  This crisis has quickly shifted modes of communication to new technology, and while it is not a complete replacement for the in-person contact we crave, it is the best balance we have for containing the spread of the disease.  Part of effective communication involves listening. Make sure that you are listening to others as much as you are talking.

While these are but a few simple strategies to help us cope with the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, please know that if your concerns reach the level where you need to seek professional help, it is available.  You can call our Statewide Crisis Line any time any day 855-274-7471 or text TN to 741-741.

May God continue to bless, keep, and provide for each of us.


About the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
Our Mission: Creating collaborative pathways to resiliency, recovery, and independence for Tennesseans living with mental illness and substance use disorders.

Our Vision: A state of resiliency, recovery, and independence in which Tennesseans living with mental illness and substance use disorders thrive.