The first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Michigan on March 10. Since then, Michiganders have had to adapt to a new reality. Social distancing, closed businesses, and panic buying has become the norm, and so has a sense of uneasiness as we ponder what could happen next. The changes can be stressful, to say the least, and navigating them can have a serious impact on your mental health. Considering this, Hour Detroit spoke with Anton Babushkin, therapist and CEO of Wellness Psychotherapy, which has offices in Troy and Detroit, on how to care for your mental health right now as well as look out for others.
Hour Detroit: How is the COVID-19 pandemic impacting mental health?
Anton Babushkin: Before the outbreak, people had busy lives and things to do. This is an additional stressor. On the one hand, there is uncertainty. At the same time, people’s lives and schedules have been disrupted. It is like adjusting to a whole new lifestyle of working from home or not going to school. With an adjustment period, it makes sense to take some time and sort out “what can I do during this time and what are my options” [and] give oneself a chance to think “how do I manage my current needs for however long this lasts.”
What can people be doing now to maintain a good headspace?
Try to sort out what the reality of the situation is. Ask yourself, “which one of my worries makes sense.” It’s easy to overreact. Try to be thoughtful about “what are my actual risks, what are the dangers,” and “what do I need to do, to be more grounded in reality.”
If someone is experiencing mental health issues, what should they be doing?
If they need help, they can ask their doctor for recommendations. Psychology Today is a good tool for finding someone that can help. There are resources where people can talk by phone or Skype, and they can still get the kind of help they need, even if it’s remotely for the time being.
Do you have any recommended resources?
My bias is my clinic. We’re one of the centers people can call to help them figure out their situation, see what kind of help they’re looking for, and find some direction. There are also community clinics. Major schools such as the University of Michigan and Wayne State University have outreach programs that you can call. I would start by calling your doctor to see if they have any recommendations, but I think having an actual person to talk to is most effective.
How can people help others who are struggling with their mental health?
Communicate with the person and check in with them. Some people are more open to conversation and others are not. So it’s good to check in and say, “hey, I noticed something is wrong” or “maybe you could use some help.” People don’t always do a good job of asking for help. They may be struggling and don’t know who to turn to, how to do it, or maybe they are uncomfortable. It’s starting the conversation that is most important. The person could say, “I’ve got it handled, and I’ll take care of it myself” or maybe they could take you up on your offer. I think a lot of times people feel like they don’t know what the right thing to say is or how to say it, but saying something and starting the conversation is better than saying nothing.
If someone is uncomfortable or defensive about it, how should they approach the conversation?
If they are a child, then you have more leverage and you can say something such as, “I know you don’t want to talk about this, but it has to be addressed.” If it’s an adult, the reality is there’s only so much you can do. You can’t make somebody seek help, but you can express your concern. Unless, of course, it’s an emergency, then you can always call someone. It’s tough. Sometimes people who are struggling will push you away — it’s not always a clear answer. They have to be willing to confront the issue.
Any other mental health advice during this time?
Be both mindful of what’s going on [right now with the pandemic] and hopefully participate in helping fix this issue, but also take some time to do something relaxing. There is a window of “can I do something enjoyable that is healthy and that helps me take care of myself to take my mind off of the crisis currently.” That is a nice thing to make time for.