STAFFORD – It’s been two months since we have been under stay at home orders.  This quarantine has forced many of us to make big changes to our daily routines.  With the state of New Jersey surpassing one million people filing for unemployment, financial difficulties are mounting. Couple this with the stresses of home-schooling children and the fear of contracting a deadly virus, as well as a large loss of social contact and all of this can lead to increases in mental illness including substance and alcohol abuse.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll showed nearly half (45%) of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the virus.

In an effort to provide treatment, support and referrals to treatment through expanded access to tele-mental health, the federal government has recently sent $2.8 million in funding to the New Jersey Department of Human Services to support behavioral health services during the COVID-19 crisis.

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“These funds will help New Jerseyans facing behavioral health issues during this crisis get the emotional support they need,” Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson said. “We are here to help. We have launched the NJMentalHealthCares helpline at 1-866-202-HELP to provide New Jerseyans a safe space to connect and discuss the anxiety we all feel in this challenging time. With this new funding, we will be able to add additional services and supports.”

“These resources will enable us to implement critically-needed mental health support and are another example of the strength of New Jersey’s partnership with both FEMA and SAMHSA,” DMHAS Assistant Commissioner Valerie Mielke said.

The World Health Organization website provides tips and advice to help us look after our own mental health and to help others who may need some extra support and care.

Keep informed. Listen to advice and recommendations from your national and local authorities. Follow trusted news channels, such as TAPintoWayne and national TV and radio, and keep up-to-date with the latest news from @WHO on social media.

Have a routine. Keep up with daily routines as far as possible or make new ones. 

  • Get up and go to bed at similar times every day.
  • Keep up with personal hygiene.
  • Eat healthy meals at regular times.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Allocate time for working and time for resting.
  • Make time for doing things you enjoy. 
  • Minimize newsfeeds. Try to reduce how much you watch, read or listen to news that makes you feel anxious or distressed. Seek the latest information at specific times of the day, once or twice a day if needed.
  • Social contact is important. If your movements are restricted, keep in regular contact with people close to you by telephone and online channels.
  • Alcohol and drug use. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink or don’t drink alcohol at all. Don’t start drinking alcohol if you have not drunk alcohol before. Avoid using alcohol and drugs as a way of dealing with fear, anxiety, boredom and social isolation.
  • There is no evidence of any protective effect of drinking alcohol for viral or other infections. In fact, the opposite is true as the harmful use of alcohol is associated with increased risk of infections and worse treatment outcomes.

And be aware that alcohol and drug use may prevent you from taking sufficient precautions to protect yourself again infection, such as compliance with hand hygiene.

  • Screen time. Be aware of how much time you spend in front of a screen every day. Make sure that you take regular breaks from on-screen activities.
  • Video games. While video games can be a way to relax, it can be tempting to spend much more time on them than usual when at home for long periods. Be sure to keep the right balance with off-line activities in your daily routine.
  • Social media. Use your social media accounts to promote positive and hopeful stories. Correct misinformation wherever you see it.
  • Help others. If you are able to, offer support to people in your community who may need it, such as helping them with food shopping.
  • Support health workers. Take opportunities online or through your community to thank your country’s health-care workers and all those working to respond to COVID-19.

NJ Human Services Department resources for those concerned about their mental health, the mental health of someone they love, or someone who just needs a safe place to talk about their anxieties in this uncertain time include the NJMentalHealthCares helpline 1-866-202-HELP (4357), available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week for free, confidential support by live trained specialists.

Also, a videophone mental health helpline is available to deaf and of hearing individuals in partnership with ACCESS at St. Joseph’s in Paterson. New Jerseyans can call the videophone helpline at 973-870-0677 for free, confidential support in American Sign Language from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Knowing that this crisis is temporary, and life will become stable again is a good thing to focus on. Focusing on positives will help anyone’s mental health far more than focusing on negatives.