Watching the news, it is impossible to miss the fact that COVID-19 is raging throughout the world. But to Michele Veenker there is another danger — intensified stress and the harm it can cause.
As the executive director of NAMI Clackamas, she advises people to reduce stress in their everyday lives now, and when the crisis is over, they will find they are happier and healthier.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Clackamas County (NAMI Clackamas) is a grassroots organization by and for people impacted by mental illness, whether in themselves or a family member. The organization's website, namicc.org, offers a wealth of tips to reduce stress and phone numbers to call if a mental health crisis arises.
"NAMI Clackamas and, in fact, NAMI affiliates around Oregon and the United States, are committed to being here whenever people experiencing mental health issues and those who love them need us, especially during the current crisis," Veenker said.
"The need to keep people connected and supported is greater now than ever. We are offering virtual and call-in support groups, classes and seminars," she added.
Even before the crisis, NAMI was working on offering some classes online. Basics already is available on demand and Homefront is available virtually, Veenker noted.
"We are also offering our Ask the Expert series virtually and call-in, and hope to expand that," she said, adding that the next session will take place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 14.
It will feature Kaellen Hessel from the Oregon Treasury Savings Network, who will talk about the ABLE savings accounts that allow disabled people to save for large purchases without affecting their eligibility for state and federal benefits.
Veenker noted that there are challenges to offering groups and classes online, chiefly that it is difficult to establish personal connections on the computer.
"On the plus side, you can join groups and classes happening anywhere in the United States, meaning there is a larger selection of times that are available to fit your schedule," she said.
To access current local groups, visit the website namicc.org and keep an eye out for updates with more groups, classes and other resources, some aimed specifically at elders and youth.
Help at hand
For those who need resources or support right now, Veenker said that all the options that were available before the crisis are still available.
The Clackamas County Crisis line is still available at 503-655-8585.
"They can manage immediate crisis or assess people for short-term mental health via telehealth," Veenker said.
"There is also YouthLine; young people can text teen2teen to 839863 or go to oregonyouthline.org to find other options," she said.
When times of stress are high, the danger of suicide increases.
"At NAMI, we are predicting that right now we are facing the quiet before the storm. The longer social distancing exists and people feel they are removed from their normal support systems, I think mental health issues and perhaps suicides … will increase," Veenker said.
She advises people to trust their instincts, ask questions if they feel someone they know may be contemplating suicide, keep the crisis numbers handy, and make that call with someone if they need it.
"Reach out to others — calls, video chats via Hangout or Facetime, email — whatever you can do to help people feel like they are not alone and that someone cares," Veenker said.
She noted that people who do not have anyone to check on them may call the NAMI Clackamas office, which can set up regular check-ins, just to be a "friendly voice to say we are here, and we care."
Veenker noted that at this time, donations are more important than ever.
"Some of our regular donors may be out of work or otherwise feeling the pinch that this crisis is causing. But the need still exists, and we are committed to see it through the long haul," she said.
People can donate by sending a check to the NAMI Clackamas office at 10202 S.E. 32nd Ave., Ste. 502, Milwaukie, OR 97222, or by going to the website at namicc.org and click on the donate button on the top right.
Or do a little more and join a virtual NAMIWalk Your Way that is going to be happening May 30 across the nation.
"May is National Mental Health Awareness Month and we will join together via social and live feeds," Veenker said.
To find out more, to register to walk, captain a team or join Veenker's team, go to namiwalks.org/northwest. Her team is Tessa's Butterflies in honor of her daughter who lives with bipolar disorder.
Veenker added, "We are strong, resilient people. It will not be easy, but together we can get through this. NAMI Clackamas is here for you."
Ways to cope with headlines
1. Avoid triggering topics in the news:
When a personal connection exists within the news, it can heighten the stress you feel. If you notice certain channels or outlets cover a triggering topic, it might be smart to take a break from those news sources.
2. Limit your news consumption: With smartphone news apps and alerts, there is a colossal amount of information available at your fingertips.
It is healthy to have an interest in news and current events, but developing obsessive habits of consuming news and information can be dangerous for your mental health.
3. Be cognizant of your social media use: Social media can intensify the effects that you feel from news and information overload.
There always is some sort of new item that's going to show up in your social media feed, which can be a problem.
4. Practice good stress management: Regular exercise, sufficient sleep and proper nutrition can all help combat stress.
If you find that your phone is causing anxiety, turn it off and live unplugged for short periods of time.
5. Turn off notifications:
Switch off all breaking news notifications on your phone to stop them interrupting your day.
6. It's OK to avoid some conversations: News stories, particularly big ones that are likely to cause the most stress, inevitably become part of conversation. Remember that it is OK to choose not to engage with these if you don't want to.
7. Look after yourself: If you are already experiencing low mood, hearing negative news is not likely to help, so make sure you are looking after yourself first. Nurture your own well-being and you may find that news media becomes less stressful.
Sources: nm.org/healthbeat/healthy-tips/5-ways-to-cope-with-the-news and calmmoment.com/wellbeing/how-to-cope-when-the-news-makes-you-feel-stressed-and-depressed
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