The pandemic of COVID-19 leaves behind more than physical health changes for the general population in its wake. Many doctors, psychiatrists, and health advisers (including the CDC and WHO) are telling the medical community and the public to brace themselves for the next big pandemic - mental illness.
Many believe mental illness describes only serious, long-term issues like hearing voices or having hallucinations. The truth is that depression, anxiety, and PTSD are the most common forms of mental illness. These can certainly be long-term, but the majority of people only deal with these issues for a short time
As with physical illnesses, though, left untreated, what may be a mild case can easily become a very serious case of mental illness. Just like you would seek advice from your doctor for an infection or the flu, you should also talk to them about your mental health.
In the next few articles, we’ll address some specific mental health concerns you may be facing yourself, your colleagues may be facing, and/or your students may be facing. Our goal is to offer a practical guide to help you weather this oncoming storm.
Here are some terms we’ll be dealing with, their definitions, and indicators that you, your colleague, or your student may need to seek help from a doctor or mental health professional.
We all feel down sometimes, but if you find yourself consistently overwhelmed by life, or so sad that it affects your daily life and keeps you from doing things you love, it’s time to talk to a professional about it.
If you are sadder than usual, feel like your life is lacking meaning, or struggling to participate in things you used to enjoy, talk to your family doctor. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, talk to a religious leader, a good friend, or a family member.
Depression is not something you have to face alone.
While medication is sometimes given for depression, it’s not right for everyone, and there are several ways to combat depression. Many times, people worry that they’ll have to take medication for the rest of their lives, but with proper treatment, some depression may be short-term.
The important thing is getting help as soon as possible.
Similarly, many people struggle with anxiety, but when that anxiety begins to creep into parts of your life you used to enjoy and find yourself uncomfortable with or avoiding, it may be time to seek help.
If your anxiety is affecting your sleeping, eating, or social habits, it’s a good idea to seek outside and professional help.
Diet, exercise, routine, and rest can help with anxiety. Meditation, prayer, or talking with people who love you can also help. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional. Like depression, some anxiety is heightened temporarily and can be managed with medication or in other ways. Talking to a doctor doesn’t necessarily mean medication for the rest of your life, or even having to take medication at all. Your doctor can be very informative about ways to help you cope with heightened anxiety.
An anxiety attack happens when your anxiety level increases, usually suddenly. Often, there is a specific fear or worry that starts as a normal fear or worry would, then increases. You may experience worry, restlessness, or physical symptoms. You may also find yourself repeating a specific fear or worry over and over again, unable to break the pattern.
If an anxiety attack continues, it may become a panic attack.
Panic attacks are more severe than anxiety attacks and consist of intense physical symptoms. They can be scary if you’ve never experienced them before, causing you to feel a lack of control. You may be afraid that you are having a heart attack or even dying.
Some people have one or two panic attacks in their lifetime. Others experience several a day. If you find yourself repeatedly having panic attacks, it is possible you may have a panic disorder.
Staying physically active, using mindfulness strategies, and working with your doctor can affect the severity and longevity of panic attacks.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
PTSD can occur whether you’ve personally experienced a trauma, or even indirectly when someone around you has experienced trauma. You may experience any of the illnesses listed above with PTSD. You may have nightmares and flashbacks.
Many teachers and students are experiencing these episodes that center around their last day physically at school, and their first few weeks attempting to do remote learning.
Although you may be tempted to treat it as an overreaction or “silly”, don’t. PTSD is serious, and mental illness can occur in response to ANY traumatic event, even imagined events. It’s not about the level or lack of violence. It’s based on any trauma, real or even imagined.
In ConclusionTeachers have never been good at taking care of themselves. Many of us pride ourselves on the fact that we voluntarily overwork, spend long hours making things just right, pursue perfection like it’s an attainable goal, and hold ourselves to ridiculous standards instead of showing ourselves the grace and mercy we must in order to stay healthy.
It’s important to understand that an untreated mental illness can easily become something much more serious and more difficult to treat. Getting help as soon as possible is essential.
Healthy boundaries and good mental hygiene are just as essential as washing your hands. If you break down mentally, who is going to take your place? If you value your students and your relationships with them, take your mental health as seriously as you do your physical health.
Stay home if you are mentally and emotionally drained.
Rest when you need to.
Provide yourself with structure, routine, time with people who love you, exercise, sunshine, and good foods.
Be patient and kind to yourself, and don’t demand perfection. You are valuable and important just the way you are.