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Coping with Mental Health and Addiction Issues During COVID-19

Dr. Raman Baishnab shares tips on how to seek help as well as cope with mental health and addition during the pandemic.
Coping with Mental Health and Addiction Issues During COVID-19
Featured Speaker:
Raman Baishnab, DO
Raman Baishnab, DO is a Board-Certified Psychiatrist on the Medical Staff at Southwest General. 

Learn more about Raman Baishnab, DO

Caitlin Whyte (Host):  COVID-19 has changed so much about what we considered normal a few months ago. Adapting to this new normal and dealing with the fear, isolation and medical worries that come up are just some of the issues affecting people today. Joining us today to talk about coping with mental health and addiction issues in the midst of a healthcare pandemic is Raman Baishnab, a board-certified psychiatrist at Southwest General.

This is Southwest General Health Talk. I’m your host Caitlin Whyte. So, what is Southwest General doing to focus on mental health during this COVID-19 pandemic?

Raman Baishnab, DO (Guest):  We have had to switch to Telepsychiatry for the vast majority of our visits. That includes one on one medication management, as well as one on one individual therapy but also now we have been doing our groups online, our intensive outpatient program and partial hospitalization program groups have been going through the same kind of DBT skills but doing it online instead of in person groups.

Host:  What are some tips for coping with the current circumstances like quarantine or maybe quarantine fatigue at this point?

Dr. Baishnab:  There’s a lot of things available now in today’s technological world that we didn’t have before that even though we are physically quarantining, there’s no reason for us to be socially quarantining. Using Facetime, using platforms like Zoom, Google Meets, WebEx to connect with others and still communicate or simply just picking up the phone, really is probably sufficient to just reach out, say hi to others, let people know the challenges that we’re struggling with, give them a listen to hear the challenges they are struggling with and just be available. We can still connect with one another just like you and I are doing right now. Communicating doesn’t require us to be face to face. Now the face to face is more potent, there’s no doubt. But being able to pick up the phone and reach out to a friend or a family member or somebody that you’re just thinking about that you recognize might have a need for human touch is an opportunity to be connected.

Host:  With so much being unknown about this virus, what are some ways that can manage a fear of contracting it?

Dr. Baishnab:  Following the guidelines that are presented to us is probably the best thing for us to continue to do as a society. Maintaining the social distance or the physical distance recommendations, wearing masks when appropriate, hand hygiene, always is the basic way to prevent transmission of communicable diseases. Common sense things that we’re just having to be a lot more vigilant about during this time. And it does seem that people have really accepted this especially in Ohio, but we’ve successfully flattened the curve and in measures that people have taken, the guidance of the governor and the federal ruling has also helped us to manage this a lot better than other places have.

Host:  How would you suggest talking to children about the virus?

Dr. Baishnab:  Be honest with the kids. If we pretend that we think everything is fine when really, we’re worried and anxious, they can pick up on that. They can sense that we’re off and maybe not being completely upfront. They won’t know – they won’t be able to put those words to it. But be honest. Be honest about your concerns. Be honest about the risks and tell them why. Kids are very tuned in. They hear and remember and understand a lot more than we realize. I think we do need to keep it simple for them but having the conversation lets them know that heh I can talk about this and if mom and dad can share their concerns that means maybe I can share my concerns as well.

Host:  Quarantine and social distancing are bringing up a lot of triggers for people suffering with addiction. Where can they go for help during this time?

Dr. Baishnab:  So, addiction is – recovery from addiction really requires the community of others in recovery. Peer support. If we could get through an addiction on our own, it’s really not an addiction. Not much of an addiction anyway. Sustained recovery from deadly things like heroine addiction, alcoholism, and other things requires me doing it with others. And I can still do that. We can – there’s Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Heroine Anonymous, all kinds of things are available online. Most of the ones I’ve seen are using things like Zoom or Google Meet, Google Hangouts and local groups, local groups have just made their presence online since they are no longer gathering in church basements and other spaces. And then the phone call.

Whether it’s COVID-19 or not, one of the best tools in recovery is picking up the phone in the middle of emotional turbulence. Too often, in recovery, we think that we’re only picking up the phone to talk about cravings. I have an urge to use. I need to pick up the phone and talk to my sponsor. Well, that’s not the only time. Anytime I have emotional turbulence, is an opportunity to pick up the phone in the heat of the moment and talk it through at a time when I’m in tune or trying to get in tune with what I’m feeling. It’s so hard for us to talk about the emotion, to name the emotion, to tease apart what’s being triggered within us and gain a little freedom from it.

So, that’s why we turn to alcohol. It’s easier for me to numb out with food, alcohol, or television than to get in touch with those emotions that are uncomfortable. But when I do, when I pick up the phone and talk about it a little bit, it starts to soften. It starts to not be so overwhelming and then I can manage to do the next right thing instead of having that relapse. But this, I can’t imagine. I can’t imagine how difficult it is right now for new people in recovery to allow for that and to stay sober without in-person meetings. But there are options available. We can get to these meetings online and we can certainly continue or even start making phone calls and really some of my best experiences in my own recovery have been picking up that phone in the moment of emotional turbulence and talking it through to somebody else in recovery. It’s their willingness to listen and my willingness to share has been enough to help me to do the next right thing.

Host:  This next question I know this applies to a couple of my friends, even myself, we find ourselves drinking a bit more while we’re stuck at home. When should we be concerned?

Dr. Baishnab:  I think it’s – what I tell people COVID-19 or not, is what is the reason. If I have a moment where I think – I’m feeling emotionally distraught or I’m feeling overwhelmed and I’m thinking to myself, man, I need a drink. That’s probably the wrong reason to drink. If I’m having a toast at my daughter’s wedding, that’s a little different. So, I would say this, if I’m using it as a coping mechanism, I’m probably headed down a negative path, a self-destructive path. Why? Why am I using this as a coping mechanism? Because it’s not going to – it’s not effective. It’s not sustainable. It will give me some immediate relief temporarily but after that, things are worse. And then I’ve got the after effects of whatever substance I used to make things worse physically. So, if I’m using it as a coping skill, it’s probably headed in the wrong direction. And can I do something instead? Can I take a pause and see what’s going on just in a moment of reflection? If that’s not enough, maybe I have to pick up the phone and talk to a friend about the tension and say heh I don’t know what’s going on but I’m just kind of feeling in a funk or I do know what’s going on and this is what’s going on and it’s a little much for me right now. Do you mind if we talk about it for a moment?

Journaling, going for a run, all kinds of things that I think we all know are available to us. We just don’t tend to make these good habits.

Host:  And wrapping up here, what are some services provided by Southwest General both in terms of addiction and just mental health in general during this time?

Dr. Baishnab:  We continue to offer our outpatients recovery groups both for mental health and for chemical dependency. Our intensive outpatient programming for both of those. And that is three days a week four hour a day with counselors and with other people that are themselves in recovery. Those are continuing to be available. People can get an intake assessment and talk to a counselor about whether or not that’s the right next step for them. For people that are more severe in a moment of crisis, there’s always the emergency room where Southwest has a psychiatric intake specialist available to address the people that are coming in specifically for mental health or addiction crisis needs at Southwest ER they will facilitate getting them admitted to the hospital if needed, admitted to the psychiatric unit if needed or simply refer to our IOP or other outpatient resources depending on what’s needed next. We do have a breakthrough program that we work with that uses inpatient beds in the hospital to facilitate detox for opioids and alcohol if that’s required. So, that’s also available for somebody that’s really in the throes of active addiction to begin to get some traction and then after that get set up with our chemical dependency IOP. We also offer individual counseling and of course medication management if that’s appropriate.

Host:  Thank you so much for this information and for your time during this pandemic. That was Raman Baishnab, a board-certified Psychiatrist at Southwest General. To learn more about Southwest General’s Behavioral Health Services call 440-816-8200. That’s 440-816-8200. Or visit This has been Southwest General Health Talk. I’m your host Caitlyn Whyte. Thanks for joining us.