Jessica Sunderland is a mom and an occupational therapist in home health care. Like many people, she deals with anxiety and depression even when the world isn’t turned upside down.
The 39-year-old South Philly resident has been dealing with isolation by listening to online medication classes, taking regular walks, chatting with neighbors from a distance, and limiting how much news she consumes.
But she’s still filled with worry. She has specific concerns, like the chance she’ll contract the virus from patients who may unknowingly be contagious, but also generally feels like something important is missing.
“I feel like we don’t realize how that lack of interaction and sense of community with people just makes you feel alone,” Sunderland said, “and, for me, a little depressed.”
For Sunderland and everyone else facing the difficulty of being cut off from regular society, there are resources to help. Mental health services have been deemed essential in Pennsylvania. That means they can continue face-to-face operations — and many organizations have spun up new virtual options as well.
“There’s a lot of uncertainties that people are dealing with right now, and that’s very much based in reality,” said Kristen Houser, deputy director for Pa.’s Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. “We have changing information, changing guidelines.”
It’s important for people to pay attention to what they’re feeling and doing, Houser said, offering three broad suggestions:
- Note any changes in your sleeping and eating patterns
- Limit the amount of negative information about the disease that you are consuming
- Beware increased use of substances like alcohol, tobacco or other drugs
Even if you don’t access official help services, Houser said, maintaining contact with loved ones and friends can help you get through the outbreak.
“There’s really nothing wrong at all about wanting to talk to somebody about anxiety or depression or feeling overwhelmed with what’s going on,” Houser said. “These are overwhelming, anxiety-producing conditions that we’re working with.”
Beyond the support systems you might already have in place, here’s a list of mental health resources available to people in Philly and Pennsylvania amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Philly’s weekly mental health and wellness sessions
Philadelphia’s Behavioral Health Education and Training Network and the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual DisAbility Services are hosting mental health webinars on Zoom every Tuesday and Thursday at 1:00 p.m. The calls will discuss topics like stress, coping, self care, alcohol dependence and supporting children amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
Online self-assessment via Healthy Minds Philly
Healthy Minds Philly offers a free online mental health screening tool to help people identify symptoms of behavioral health and substance abuse.
Remote help from experts statewide
Employees of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Keystone PA are working remotely through April 6, but are still answering calls to the helpline (1-888-264-7972) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Voicemails and emails are being monitored during normal business hours.
NAMI also released a comprehensive guide to mental health during the pandemic. The guide includes information about loneliness, anxiety, health care and grief. It details information for people experiencing homelessness, people who have lost a loved one to COVID-19, and people who are caring for someone with mental illness.
Chat line for the Delaware Valley
Mental Health Partnerships, a nonprofit mental health and substance abuse organization with locations in Philadelphia, the surrounding suburbs, New Jersey and Delaware, is still running many of its recovery centers, and has made many other of its services virtual.
The organization offers a chat line (800-688-4226) where individuals can speak to a certified peer specialist Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Free service for health care workers
The Anxiety and Agoraphobia Treatment Center in Bala Cynwyd is offering health care workers helping with the outbreak free teletherapy sessions. Medical workers can contact the center at 610-667-6490 to schedule phone or online sessions.
Virtual substance abuse recovery resources
Philly-based Unity Recovery is offering free online recovery meetings at least five times daily. The organization is also hosting specialized support videoconferences, for families, women, and LGBTQ people
The meetings are not recorded and attendees can verify their attendance by filling out a form online.
Resources for students
Founded by a Penn grad, national nonprofit Active Minds put together a mental health resource page for young adults, schools, parents and remote workers during the pandemic.
The organization will host a webinar on Wednesday and Thursday about mental health during social distancing.
The Temple University Wellness Resource Center, a mental wellness center for Temple students, is hosting several webinars on Zoom about self-care, stress management and sleeping tips through the month of April.
National and statewide mental health hotlines
For immediate assistance, contact the following crisis hotlines
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio: 1-888-628-9454
- Crisis Text Line: Text “PA” to 741-741
- Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990