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Staying Mentally and Emotionally Healthy During the Pandemic

Sheltering in place and social distancing have altered our way of life and are wearing on us mentally and emotionally. Fear of the unknown, loneliness and isolation, confinement, and worries about the future are impacting us all to some degree. For those with existing mental health and/or substance abuse issues, the current situation can be especially destabilizing.

Jennifer Bates, Manager of Outpatient Behavioral Health at MarinHealth, weighs in on maintaining one’s mental health in these uncertain times. Listen for some useful advice to help reduce the stress and anxiety out of sheltering in place. Learn the signs that you or a loved one might be at risk for depression or other mental health issues and find out where you can get help.
Staying Mentally and Emotionally Healthy During the Pandemic
Featured Speaker:
Jennifer Bates, LCSW
Jenny Bates is the Manager of Outpatient Behavioral Health at MarinHealth Medical Center. Jenny is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and has twenty-five years working in the field of mental health and addiction. She is recognized as one of the leaders in her field and has had extensive experience in training, development, implementation of programs and best practices in behavioral health treatment. In her free time Jenny likes to give back to her community and is a member of Rotary Club of San Rafael Evening and is also actively involved in Rotary International District 5150 and has served as Youth District Chair, Assistant Governor and is planning for Chief of Staff role for the 2021-2022 year.
Staying Mentally and Emotionally Healthy During the Pandemic

Bill Klaproth (Host): Anxiety, depression, substance abuse, stress, and other influences to our mental health have always been part of consideration of overall health and wellness but especially now with the stress and anxiety of COVID-19. So, what do you need to know? Let’s learn more with Jennifer Bates, Manager of Outpatient Behavioral Health at Marin Health.

This is the Healing podcast from Marin Health. I’m Bill Klaproth. Jennifer, thank you so much for your time. So, with the recent issues related to COVID-19, we’ve seen an increase in mental health issues. What have you seen in Marin County?

Jennifer Bates, LCSW (Guest): Well I think early on it seemed like we were all in a standstill and shock. So, things slowed down considerably in the mental health side of things. Marin Health Medical Center and our Marin County Partners worked closely in the early stages to plan for patients to continue to receive virtual supports, telephonic supports and both our outpatient and inpatient units were able to maintain the current capacity particularly when this was first starting to hit. We never really missed a beat when it came to providing those services.

Interestingly, we’ve seen a slight decrease in new calls for our particular outpatient behavioral health program and this is fairly consistent with what others are seeing in similar programs throughout the country. I think initially, many were focused on the quarantine and the shock of it all and so the phone calls stopped. But we really anticipate the calls are going to increase throughout the next few months as the stressors increase and people are starting to feel the economic and emotional impacts of this COVID-19 pandemic.

Host: Well this is going to be around for a while and so are those stressors. So, what are some things people can do to help manage stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Jennifer: There’s a few things that are really important for us to pay attention to during this time. It’s a very strange time for all of us. I think it’s important to practice mindful exposure. It’s always good to be informed but watching the news 24/7 is not a helpful process. And it can increase tension and stress. Staying socially connected with others. We can’t physically connect with others right now, but we can remain connected by using digital resources. Things like the telephone. Skype, Zoom, Facetime. People really need to talk during this time and so it’s good to stay connected in any way that you can. Things like good self-care habits, regular exercise, you know put on a YouTube workout, walk in the neighborhood while socially distancing. Maybe eating healthy meals to promote wellness in the mind and the body.

And then lastly, one, a lot of people aren’t talking about but limit the alcohol intake. This is not a good time to create unhealthy coping habits. And I have a lot of concern about that going on. Things like setting routine is important, getting up at a normal time every day, get ready for work as if you are going to work and do things that you enjoy around the house that maybe you haven’t done for a long time. Things like cooking or baking, knitting, hobbies. Those are things that would be really important to help manage your stress during this pandemic.

Host: So, those are really good tips we should all follow. So, what are the new pressures you are seeing in dealing with the external and personal life changes that have impacted mental health during this outbreak?

Jennifer: If you think about it everything has changed in our life. Kids are homeschooling which has its own set of issues around isolation from peers and parental stress around that. People have been laid off, furloughed, finances are tight. People who need physical connection are now isolated. I mean this could be hard for anyone to cope with. If one adds to preexisting stress, it’s just really easy to impact your mental health. I think overall, the pressures we’re feeling right now really have a lot of fear in them. So, we’ve been seeing a lot of fear and we’ve also been seeing a lot of anticipatory anxiety which is that worry about the event before it’s occurred. A lot of people are really worried about their families and what’s going to happen to them.

And then also just how do they balance work and life and all the competing obligations going on? And it’s really a time many of us have never experienced and it’s really stressful for people.

Host: That it is, for all of us right now. So, what signs and symptoms should people or their family or friends look for in assessing if mental health issues are surfacing or getting worse?

Jennifer: That’s a great question. I think we should be more concerned if you’re seeing things like persistent low mood, you’re seeing somebody who is having changes in their sleep patterns, maybe changes in appetite or loss in concentration, feeling restless, irritable, trouble experiencing joy or motivation in life or possibly even things like panic attacks where their heart is racing, they are having shortness of breath. Those are things that if you are seeing that, you certainly want to reach out and get them help. It’s also good to understand that if someone has had a prior history of anxiety or mood or substance use disorder or possibly even a lot of trauma; they’re really going to be more vulnerable at this time.

Host: So, how does stress and anxiety affect people of different ages or children or older people?

Jennifer: Coping with COVID-19 is challenging like I said for mostly everyone. I think with kids, lot of them are not going to be talking about it. But they’re going to be acting this out possibly by showing agitation, or some sort of behavioral acting out. If you are looking at older adults, they’re already an isolated group of individuals and during this time, they might even isolate more and not talk about what’s going on. I think for both children, adolescents, adults, what’s most important and that we need to emphasize is talk to people, ask them if they need support. People really just want to be heard and seen and taking the time to talk to someone and ask them if they’re okay, maybe even ask them if they are having suicidal thoughts. These are all hard discussions to have but by asking, we’re opening the door and allowing for people to get the help that they need at this point.

Host: Right. Which is important. So, what should people do if symptoms start to become overwhelming?

Jennifer: Certainly, we want everybody to reach out for help, maybe talk to a friend, a loved one, reach out maybe to your insurance to find out if you are on their insurance panel. Most providers now are providing Telehealth at this point, so you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home to get the help that you need. There are some providers in the community that you can see in person but do reach out for help. I think here at Marin Health Medical Center, we also serve people with moderate to severe mental health symptoms. We have an intensive outpatient treatment program where people can come for four hours a day, three days a week and we’re 100% virtual at this point. So, certainly we’re here to help you. There are some warm lines out there, people where they can call and just get support and we can provide any information anyone needs.

Host: So, you mentioned these virtual visits, how can a virtual visit be scheduled?

Jennifer: Well they just need to give us a call at 415-925-7680 and we will talk with them about how to set that up. It’s all done remotely, set up via the phone and then a WebEx platform and they would start services.

Host: And what’s that number again Jennifer and who should they call?

Jennifer: Give us a call here at Marin Health Medical Center. We’re part of Outpatient Behavioral Health and our main number is 415-925-7681. And whomever answers the phone will be able to help them.

Host: It’s nice in these times when it’s important that all of us stay home to try to flatten the curve that these services are available. Jennifer, thank you so much for your time. This has really been informative. Thanks again.

Jennifer: Absolutely. Thank you. Thank you for having us.

Host: That’s Jennifer Bates and for more information, please visit or once again, you can call 415-925-7681. And if you found this podcast helpful, please share it on your social channels and check out the full podcast library for topics of interest to you. This is the Healing Podcast from Marin Health. I’m Bill Klaproth. Thanks for listening.