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Handling stress and anxiety of coronavirus fears in your county


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Ron Manderscheid

Former Executive Director, National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors

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“Don’t let fear overtake the facts” is the most important thing I can say to you about coronavirus fears.

As we wake up to an America that is becoming shuttered — schools, churches, theaters, restaurants and businesses all closed or closing for extended periods —our reality has changed dramatically. And even more extreme changes can be anticipated in the coming days.

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Mental and Interpersonal Hygiene in Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic

We all have a personal threat of contracting coronavirus and the growing realization that the pandemic is rapidly changing our lives in very extreme ways. These developments can and will lead to feelings of threat and fear, panic in some, and post-traumatic stress disorder in the most dramatic cases.

To combat these emotional states in our staff and among the very vulnerable who we serve, several actions will be needed:

  • Get the facts out, even if they are unpleasant or difficult. It always is better to be informed with the facts than to allow assumptions, innuendo, and rumors to fuel fear.
  • Have an emergency plan of action and share that plan broadly with staff, clients, and your community.
  • Maintain ongoing communication with staff and clients, so that an informed point of information is available continuously.
  • Hold frequent meetings with staff, even if virtually, so that people can express their concerns, fears and hopes.
  • Provide strong emotional support where it is needed and be less demanding about routine performance. Everyone is trying to cope in their own way.

The international coronavirus crisis continues to grow. As of Sunday, there have been about 110,000 known cases in 79 countries, and nearly 4,000 persons have died. Just released research from Harvard University concludes that the mortality rate is about 15 persons per 1,000 infected, under the assumption that only about half of those infected actually are ever identified as cases. In the U.S., as of Sunday, there have been more than 400 cases in 34 states, and 19 persons have died. Great uncertainty also exists about the future course of the infection in the US, which is leading to disruptions in business, travel and the stock market.

More testing kits will become available in the United States this week, which should help to contain and control the disease. However, many more testing kits are needed.

Clearly, this period of great uncertainty can lead to fear and, in some cases, panic. For our behavioral health field, these emotional states can have very detrimental consequences.

For more information, read: Mental and Interpersonal Hygiene in Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic.

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