While many are focused on the economy and their physical wellbeing during the COVID-19 crisis, mental health professionals are urging people not to put their mental wellness on the back burner as the world shifts into a new normal.
Tonya Ladipo, LCSW, is the founder and CEO of The Ladipo Group L.L.C., based in Philadelphia, where her team specializes in serving the black community. For more than 15 years, Ladipo has guided people through some of their most difficult times. And as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, her team has increased its digital therapy services and she wants to help people all over get through this time.
Millions of people are living in uncertainty as the world awaits a solution to the coronavirus pandemic. That uncertainty is causing a new normal for people mentally as orders such as social distancing and sheltering-in-place have been put into action, in addition to the economic shift. And while not everyone has contracted the virus, everyone has been affected by it.
We spoke with Ladipo about ways to cope with isolation, loss, and self-preservation.
COVID-19 and Mental Wellness
There is a lot of conversation about how COVID-19 has created a financial crisis, but there isn’t a lot of dialogue about mental health. What are some of the things that you are seeing and how are you helping people during this time?
What I’ve been seeing and what I really am concerned about is that impact on our collective mental health. What we are experiencing right now is a collective trauma. It’s a global trauma. We’re living through it and it’s not over.
I don’t like the term social distance. We are not designed for social distancing. Now, to be safe washing our hands and having physical distance right now is crucial. That public health measure and direction is necessary to have physical distance. But social distance is what is going to break people. We’re struggling with finances. We’re struggling with how to work from home… if you’re lucky enough to still have a job. There are a lot of stressors. And quite frankly, people are not OK. And we’re not going to be OK for a while.
How can people communicate that they are not OK? And what actions can they take right now where they are?
The first question you ask yourself is, ‘How am I feeling?’ Am I sad, mad, glad, or scared? All other emotions kind of all fall someplace in there.” And then if you can tell somebody, I think that’s great. It could be a phone call or a text. That’s the social connection that we need. It is key that you check in with yourself and check in with somebody else.
If you’re in a space where you don’t want to check in with someone else at that time, write about it. It’s how our brain processes information—not typing, but handwriting. You can throw it away. You could save it. It doesn’t matter. It’s just the act of writing about it and recording it for yourself that is key.
if you’re feeling really riled up, if you feel like you can’t breathe, you’re just so overwhelmed, you’re so anxious, then taking deep breaths is a fantastic way to kind of calm yourself down. Some people meditate or say a prayer—and I also like to add in songs.
Sometimes the energy in our body is so great it has to come out. When it has to come out, that is when you write it out or take a walk.
People are tired of being in the house and the influx of information. How can people overcome the fatigue associated with this pandemic?
You have to take breaks. Now is the time to take off those push notifications, so that you control when you go to the media. Part of preserving our mental health is recognizing there’s so much unknown there’s so much uncertainty. It will continue to change, so watching the news for seven hours a day doesn’t help you. And because it doesn’t help you, you need to reduce it in a way that is manageable for your mental health.
Self-Preservation is Self-Care
How can people practice self-preservation?
I love the quote by Audre Lorde that says, ‘Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.’ The way that our society defines self-care is wrong, quite frankly, and it’s hurtful.
What we are called to do right now with self-preservation is self-care, especially for black people. We have been through so much that the need to make sure we are well is not optional.
First things first, set boundaries. Have boundaries, know what they are, and communicate them.
Questions you can think about are, what do you want from the people you love? What do you want from work if you’re fortunate enough to still have a job? Spend some time writing and thinking about that. And then ask yourself, who do I need to share that with?
So have boundaries, and then know what kind of relationships you need to have. Think about who do you need to stay connected to. Also, think about who you are. And when you need time alone.
That is self-preservation. Part of that is knowing how to cultivate joy in the midst of this.
‘Home’ looks different for everyone. And it can be the very thing that stresses people out. How can people find light in dark places as they manage existing stressors while they are sheltered in place?
For people who are living in really stressful homes right now, if you can, carve out a place in your house, where you can be—even if it’s for 5 or 10 minutes, even if it’s the bathroom. Listen to your favorite song, read your favorite passage, scripture, or word. Look at the picture of somebody whom you love, who you admire. I think that helps us get through.
Overcoming COVID-19 Together
The workforce is challenging right now. What are some of the ways that leaders in management roles can practice compassion in the new remote workforce during these times?
I have two clients. I have the clients who pay and then I have my staff who are my clients. And I make sure that they’re treated well. I would hope that other people have that same care already built-in. Perhaps it’s not being activated right now because they’re going through their own stuff. A way to reactivate it is by remembering that employees are people and they’re struggling. If you want your business to continue, you need to make sure they’re OK. So, if you can’t do it because you love them, then do it because you want your business to succeed.
There have been reports that anticipate black and brown people will be hit the hardest by COVID-19. What is it that you want to tell our people about the importance of mental health and wellness?
They can’t take our minds. I feel as though we have to fight to protect it [our mental health] especially through COVID-19 because we’re on lockdown—and because it’s hard. We have to protect our mental health and wellness like a job right now. We have to make sure that when we come out of this—and we’re bruised and maybe having broken bones—that we’re not fully broken.
Not everyone has access to healthcare providers during this time. And for that reason, Ladipo is offering two free online stress and anxiety groups starting next week. For more information about the workshops, click here.
Below are additional resources to help you get connected while you are home:
For the latest updates about how COVID-19 is impacting the black community, click here when you are ready.