Hamline News

Mental Health in the Time of COVID-19


Dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 is a marathon, not a sprint. And while it is important to practice the social distancing that will keep many more people safe and healthy, it is also important to realize the toll this situation places on our mental health.

Hussein Rajput Ph.D., director of counseling at Hamline’s Counseling and Health Services, offers his outlook on the emotional effects of COVID-19 and what people can do to look after their mental health.

Q - What changes are you seeing in people’s overall mental health?

While there is no one-size fits all answer, I think it's fair to say that most of us are experiencing ups and downs when it comes to our mental health. Many people have periods when they feel overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety, loss, loneliness, and anger at the situation, and other times when things feel relatively manageable. Some are even experiencing moments of appreciation for the "silver linings" and new perspectives that can emerge when the pace of life slows down.

That being said, we know that this is not the case for our front-line essential workers, nor for folks who have lost jobs. And across the board, stresses associated with COVID-19 are causing or exacerbating issues such as anxiety and depression. Disparities in access to quality healthcare are another significant source of stress for many communities.

Q - How do these feelings play into people's mental health?

Uncertainty is one of the conditions in which anxiety tends to thrive. It is much easier to speculate about possible bad things when the future seems uncertain, and when potential worst-case scenarios are very salient in our minds. So one of the challenges for all of us in maintaining our mental health right now is to increase our capacity to tolerate uncertainty. We all need to identify our personal strengths and our social/community resources that can be our anchors during this time.

Q - What are some of the best ways to combat feelings of loneliness, anxiety and fear while maintaining social distance?

While I think people are using online platforms to connect with friends and family over games, virtual coffee breaks, dinners, or happy hours, I would also encourage people to have a phone conversation with a friend or relative, or send someone an old-fashioned letter. As we get into nicer weather, getting outside to walk, jog, or ride a bike (while maintaining social distance) can also reduce one's sense of isolation.

I encourage people to be very deliberate about the amount of COVID-19 media coverage they consume in a given day. I recommend setting a time limit, say 30 minutes per day or less, and sticking to it.

Another way to reduce anxiety and fear is to turn to people who are coping effectively. This is where the wisdom of our elders can be a tremendous resource. Although the COVID-19 pandemic feels like an unprecedented event to most of us, hearing narratives of resilience from people who have made it through war, famine, natural disaster, or other calamities can be very powerful for reminding us that we can get through this too.

Q - How do you see mental health services adapting to COVID-19?

Online delivery of almost all psychotherapy has been the most significant change to mental health care in response to this pandemic. I think many providers in the field have been surprised at how quickly the transition occurred. With so many therapists having acquired the technological proficiency to make this possible, I imagine that we will see more counseling sessions delivered via video platforms even after the pandemic.

Q - What are some resources for people experiencing mental health issues during this time?

The staff of Counseling & Health Services are available to support students via telehealth appointments. More information can be found on our website

For Hamline employees seeking professional guidance regarding mental health, a good starting point is our Employee Assistance Program, which can be found on the Human Resources web page

Finally, I’ve collected some online mental health resources that I would recommend:

If you’re hitting a wall, you’re not alone. CNN
This can be our finest hour, but we need all of you. Blog by Gretchen Schmelzer, PhD, licensed psychologist
Tips for Keeping a Gratitude Journal Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkeley
Science-Based Strategies to Cope with Coronavirus Anxiety The Conversation.com
Mindfulness Meditation Resources Jack Kornfield, PhD, clinical psychologist
Sleep Guidelines During the COVID-19 Pandemic Sleep Foundation.org

Written by staff May 6, 2020