Hamline News

Let's Talk about COVID-19 and Mental Health

Hamline University Professor Serena King took time from her schedule to offer her take on the enormous impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the field of psychology and people's mental health.

How has the pandemic affected the field of psychology?
There have been many impacts. The shift to telehealth therapy in the psychology world has been a huge change. Most substance use and mental health providers are pivoting to provide critical care to our populations via telehealth, meanwhile balancing their own home life demands and preparing for a surge in mental health care needs.

Substance use disorder and mental health needs are higher than ever and the switch to telehealth there has led to trouble with people receiving their medications, and twelve-step groups are moving online. There are concerns over overdoses due to traumatic job losses, etc. Suicide risk is elevated. Right now we need increased access and utilization of mental health care in this country to mitigate the effects of this crisis.

In addition to psychology, you’re an expert on problem gambling, is there reason to be worried?
There has been some research on the quarantine affecting how people gamble and concern about those who were addicted to gambling turning to online gambling as an outlet when casinos are closed and social distancing is in effect. This is a huge red flag due to the unregulated nature of online internet gambling and the urgent and desperate financial issues plaguing our country now. Some states and alliances are setting up voluntary opt-out software programs to opt-out of online gambling (for those at risk). I am following the trends with Northstar Gambling Alliance updates.

What should people keep in mind as we move through this new existence?
There are so many people in our world suffering right now (from loss, mourning, trauma, disease, lack of access to care, effects of racism, unemployment, social isolation, the list goes on). Psychologists need to meet this need with creativity and innovation. We need to take our skills and offer them to the community and inspire others to do the same. We need to share important educational skills everyone can use to better society. Data on psychological resilience and mental health suggest helping others or giving back to others during times of stress has an extremely beneficial effect on our own mental health. Find small and simple ways to help others.

I also suggest the following: 

  • Turn off the news and create a limited daily diet of COVID-related news updates.
  • Choose to embrace uncertainty as much as possible, and appreciate any present moment that seems grounding and positive.
  • Reach out to others via regular phone calls rather than internet media. 
  • Even when times are hard, appreciate the beauty around you; even the blue jay in your yard can help your mental state. 
  • Tune into our shared sense of collective humanity as we all live through these challenging times.
  • Don’t minimize the reactions or experience of others as they live through their own personal and ever changing lived experience of COVID-19 and its fallout.
  • Take time to listen carefully to others when they choose to reveal their own experiences.
  • Define and share your own and others’ past experience of human resilience and encourage others to do the same. Draw on past examples of resilience as a reminder of how to address current challenges.

What else should the Hamline community know?
Help is available. I want everyone to know there is a hotline for mental health needs due to COVID-19.

Call the warm line at 651-288-0400 or text “Support” to 85511
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Crisis Text Line is available for free, 24/7 by texting MN to 741741
Call the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990

More resources are available from the CDC too. And, Hamline Counseling and Health Services are available for students.

Via email interview. Lightly edited by staff.