March 23, 2020


The Providence Journal eEdition

By: Laurie-Marie Pisciotta

Mental Health and the Coronavirus

Direct Link to Article

I’ve been worried my whole life. The anxiety never goes away. It always feels as though something terrible is about to happen. This goes back to my childhood, which was profuse with chaos and uncertainty. Now imagine how COVID-19 is affecting people like me.


COVID-19 and all the uncertainty that comes with this new virus is weighing on us all, but for the 1 in 5 people who live with a mental illness, we are particularly struggling. Just as individuals with pre-existing medical conditions are more likely to get physically ill from COVID-19, people with mental illness are at risk of experiencing worsening mental illness as a result of the virus — whatever their illness may be.


Isolation adds another layer of stress for people with mental illness; our support system feels farther and farther out of reach as the weeks go by. We are home—often completely alone — with our illness. Whether we are in recovery from a substance use disorder or battling depression or an eating disorder, we are left by ourselves. It is critically important to stay connected to friends and family, particularly those who live with compromised mental health.


For those who do not have a diagnosable mental illness, feeling concerned about COVID-19 is normal. Become a diligent observer of your thoughts and feelings, as it is important to know when these natural emotions are becoming anxiety. Symptoms of anxiety disorder include hypervigilance, irritability, restlessness, lack of concentration, racing thoughts, insomnia, nausea, and heart palpitations. Severe anxiety can cause panic attacks. You can check yourself for an anxiety disorder with this free screening.


Isolation is integral to preventing the spread of COVID-19, and I encourage each of us to stay home as much as possible. While we are isolating, there are things we can do to care for ourselves.


• Create a wellness plan for yourself. Plan ahead for the tools or resources you will rely on if you feel overwhelmed by anxiety.

• Practice stress relief whenever you feel anxiety building like breathing techniques, visualization, arts and crafts, gardening or reaching out to a loved one for support.

• Avoid numbing yourself with excessive drinking or non-prescription drugs, which will only increase your anxiety afterward.

• Give yourself something to look forward to by making plans for six months down the road.

• Keep the routines that make you feel good. If you typically go to the gym, you can exercise at home. Check out YouTube for exercise and yoga videos.

• Reach out to friends and family. Schedule daily or weekly virtual hangouts.

• Find an accountability and support buddy.

• Make sure you have enough medication on hand. Refill prescriptions on the first possible day. Ask your pharmacy if you can have a longer supply.

• If you have a therapist, ask if he or she offers telephone or video-based sessions.

• Use online support groups like the Inspire community.

• If you need emotional support, contact SAMHSA’s 24/7 Disaster Distress Helpline (1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746).

• Rhode Islanders in crisis can use BH Link’s walk-in center and helpline, which are open 24/7. ( or call 401-414-LINK).


While the media are saturated with stories about the impending recession, unemployment, and the financial toll caused by the pandemic, few are talking about the cost to our individual and collective mental health. How many of us are on edge and snapping at strangers in the grocery store? How many of us feel hopeless?


We need to take care of our mental health, and we need to look out for those who live with mental illness. This pandemic can bring out the worst in us or the best in us. I choose to let it soften me toward my fellow Rhode Islanders. I choose patience and compassion. I hope you will too.


Laurie-Marie Pisciotta is the executive director of the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island.

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