In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Main Line Health remains committed to providing safe, superior care to all who visit its facilities and offers several coping behaviors for individuals to follow during the current lockdown.
Michelle Mullany, Main Line Health’s System Vice President of Behavioral Health, is like many of us who are experiencing a global health crisis for the first time.
“I’ve never personally experienced anything like this and never had to guide my staff through something like this,” she said. “People are worried, and worried for their families. There is so much uncertainty, and stress brings out different things in people.”
Main Line Health has the resources to offer patients mental and emotional wellness as part of its Behavioral Health program. Behavioral Health is an umbrella term that encompasses psychiatry, mental health, and substance abuse. Main Line Health offers psychiatric care, inpatient and outpatient mental health services, and substance abuse treatment for addiction. Also, its Women’s Emotional Wellness Centers in Newtown Square and King of Prussia provide psychiatry and therapy services for women 18 and older.
“We also offer different kinds of individual and group therapy at all our locations,” said Mullany, “to help people reintegrate back into society and reconnect with others after addiction or mental health problems.”
Mullany believes the main physical and mental impact of the current coronavirus will be felt mainly because of the loss of normal social interaction, which we often take for granted.
“We are social creatures, and we handle stress through talking about it with our peers and people we interact with,” she said. “Often, those people are not in our family but are our friends and co-workers, and without the ability to really deal with that stress in real time, it has the potential to become much more significant and have longer-term effects on us.”
Mullany suggests that the feedback we typically receive from engaging with other people in the workplace, in meetings, and in social occasions, informs our identity. Just looking into someone’s eyes and reading facial expressions, for example, gives us cues to how we fit in the world, and without that, we start to get much more anxious.
“We know from isolation studies that, in just a few days without social contact, we start to experience different levels of depression and anxiety,” she said. “That’s not to say that it’s permanent, but without the ability to self-correct, it could become worse over time. We don’t realize how much our daily life and interaction with others allows us to have structure.”
It is creating that structure, in the form of a daily schedule, that Mullany considers one of the keys to coping in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
“I can’t stress enough that people should start planning,” she said. “Planning a time for when we get up or when we eat lunch or when to play Monopoly with the kids is critical. This lockdown is going to go on for a long time, so it is really imperative that people think about putting structure in their lives. Without it, we really do get to see more depression setting in.”
Mullany suggests writing down a schedule for when to accomplish different tasks throughout the day – from waking up to exercising, eating, checking e-mail, etc. And then to post that schedule, so the rest of the family knows what to expect as well.
That daily planning should also include time to develop healthy habits, another way to help individuals cope during the lockdown.
“Exercise, exercise, exercise,” said Mullany. “Our muscles begin to atrophy after a lack of movement in a few days. Put on the calendar that you will do five sit-ups today, for example, then five more tomorrow, and every day do it at the same time.”
Mullany said that it should be about progress, not perfection – meaning we shouldn’t think we all have to go out and run a marathon.
“When we create new habits for ourselves that are positive, it’s proven to have a significant positive impact on depression, coping, and resilience – our ability to bounce back from situations like the one we are in,” she said.
Meditation, with the help of apps or YouTube videos, is also recommended for a positive impact on anxiety levels, even if done for only a minute or two.
Finally, Mullany strongly suggests going out of our way to stay in touch with those who are alone.
“As the economy shifts and businesses close and people lose more jobs, I believe we are going to see significant issues with mental health,” she said. “My recommendation is to check in on two people a day. Checking in just to talk or to ask what we can do lets other people know that there are others who care about them, and it also helps us who are doing the checking in.”
From experience, Mullany knows that when people need help and feel vulnerable or alone, that is typically the time when they don’t reach out because they feel they may be a bother.
“Keep in mind that people need us, and when they need us the most is when they are going to ask for our help the least,” she said. “Again, make it an intention. As things get worse, you want to make sure that daily schedule for interaction is airtight.”
For those who are in need of support, Mullany encourages them to reach out to medical professionals sooner rather than later.
“Unfortunately, people don’t reach out until things are really, really bad,” she said. “If we can help somebody get through something with a little therapy, a short-term intervention, or a support group, we’d rather have them do that rather than have their symptoms worsen where they would need to come in for different level of care.”
Individuals do not need a referral to contact Main Line Health. They can call 1-888-CARE-898 or click here to make an appointment or learn more about Behavioral Health at Main Line Health.