JACKSON — As the COVID-19 virus ravages our economy and health systems, it also exacts a heavy emotional toll through fear, despair, anxiety, depression and frustration.

The Pew Research Center reported, “Health experts are concerned about the potential mental health effects of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, and mental health hotlines report a substantial uptick in calls since the outbreak began.”

The Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting cited one distraught Mississippian who said, “I have not been sleeping at night. I lie awake at night for hours and replay numbers, information from the day, budgets, supplies, what if, what if, what if! I find myself, several times a day, having trouble breathing.” She reached out and got help, according to the article.

Others who are seriously impacted may not reach out. It was heart-rending to learn the virus led one dear friend to suicide and another into serious depression.

While many of us will battle to cope with stressful emotions, each of us should intentionally reach out to others to help them cope. “The best medicine can be reaching out to friends and family through telephone and maintaining a sense of connection,” Gulf Coast Mental Health Center Executive Director Stacy G. Miller told the Clarion Ledger.

“In general, people are experiencing despair, boredom, loneliness, anxiety, and it’s all being intertwined with depression and can be connected to different reasons,” Richard McMullan, clinical director with the Mississippi Department of Mental Health’s Region 8 told the Brookhaven Daily Leader. “It’s a general foreboding that comes along with a situation, and it comes with anxiety.”

Warning of the dangers of widespread panic she calls “emotional contagion,” Wharton School professor Sigal Barsade contends, “Emotional contagion, unless we get a hold on it, is going to greatly amplify the damage caused by COVID-19.”

Even though the vast majority of people won’t contract the virus, she said, a much higher percentage will experience emotional contagion. Barsade’s concern comes from her professional research into emotional behavior.

“One of the things we also know from the research literature is that negative emotions, particularly fear and anxiety, cause us to become very rigid in our decision-making. We’re not creative. We’re not as analytical, so we actually make worse decisions.”

During this stressful time, family, friends and church members can play a more proactive role to head off tragedy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, “Helping others cope with their stress can also make your community stronger.”

What can you do?

The Mississippi Department of Mental Health says taking proactive steps to reach out to friends and family members can help reduce anxiety and loneliness, encouraging people to get “face-to-face” contact through applications such as FaceTime or Skype. If that’s not possible, then call them and hear their voice and let them hear yours.

Pastor Beverly Knox in Meridian has been calling everyone on her contact list to check on them and pray for them.

You can also help connect those in need of counseling to licensed professional counselors.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:6-7

Bill Crawford is a Republican former state lawmaker. Previously from Meridian, he now lives in Jackson.

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