Dual diagnosis: Minding your mental health and staying safe during COVID-19
Infectious disease outbreaks like coronavirus (COVID-19) can be worrying. This can affect your mental health. But there are many things you can do to mind your mental health during times like this.
How your mental health might be affected
The spread of coronavirus is a new and challenging event. Some people might find it more worrying than others. Try to remember that medical, scientific and public health experts are working hard to contain the virus.
Most people’s lives will change in some way over a period of days, weeks or months. But in time, it will pass.
You may notice some of the following:
- increased anxiety
- feeling stressed
- finding yourself excessively checking for symptoms, in yourself, or others
- becoming irritable more easily
- feeling insecure or unsettled
- fearing that normal aches and pains might be the virus
- having trouble sleeping
- feeling helpless or a lack of control
- having irrational thoughts
If you are taking any prescription medications, make sure you have enough. Allow extra time for your chemist to fill your prescription.
How to mind your mental health and stay safe during this time
Try to not use drugs or alcohol to cope
Limit your drug and alcohol use and avoid using substances to cope with stressful feelings. Using substances to help with emotions could quickly become a pattern for some people and a norm that is relied on for support. Alcohol and other drugs can pose a definite mental health risk for some people.
Some drugs, like alcohol are known as ‘depressants’ and can make you feel low after using. It can also increase the risk of violence. In the long run though substances could make how you’re feeling worse.
Each person will have a different relationship with substances, review where you are at with your use by taking our online self assessment here
Continue to take medication as prescribed
You may be on medication to help your mental health or to support drug recovery. It's important to continue to take any medication in line with your prescribing plans. If you are in isolation, supports can help you access medication you need. Local Link can help you access what you need from the pharmacy if in isolation.
Be extra cautious if using drugs
The use of some drugs or some patterns of use could weaken your immune system making you more at risk of illness from COVID-19. If you have COVID-19 you may be at greater risk of overdose. Always follow harm reduction advice if you use drugs.
International travel restrictions can impact on the chain of supply of drugs meaning there can be changes in the market. You can’t be sure of the contents and may be at greater risk during this time.
Using new drugs or new mixtures of drugs can impact on your mental health. Get harm reduction information on how to reduce the harms during the COVID-19 outbreak here
If you can’t access drugs you normally use then you could experience withdrawals, which in some cases can be very severe. Withdrawal from drugs like benzodiazepines ‘Xanax’, ‘Up Johns’ can lead to seizures as can withdrawals from alcohol and a variety of other substances. Drug withdrawal can also impact negatively on your mental health causing you to feel anxious or depressed. Discuss this with a medical professional.
Stay informed but set limits for news and social media
The constant stream of social media updates and news reports about coronavirus could cause you to feel worried. Sometimes it can be difficult to separate facts from rumours. Use trustworthy and reliable sources to get your news.
On social media, people may talk about their own worries or beliefs. You don’t need to make them your own. Too much time on social media may increase your worry and levels of anxiety. Consider limiting how much time you spend on social media.If you find the coverage on coronavirus is too intense for you, talk it through with someone close or get support.
Keep up your healthy routines
Your routine may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak in different ways. But during difficult times like this, it’s best if you can keep some structure in your day.
It’s important to pay attention to your needs and feelings, especially during times of stress. You may still be able to do some of the things you enjoy and find relaxing.
Stay connected to others
During times of stress, friends and families can be a good source of support. It is important to keep in touch with them and other people in your life.
If you need to restrict your movements or self-isolate, try to stay connected to people in other ways, for example:
- social media
- video calls
- phone calls
- text messages
Many video calling apps allow you to have video calls with multiple people at the same time. Some services are now holding group meetings online.
Remember that talking things through with someone can help lessen worry or anxiety. You don't have to appear to be strong or to try to cope with things by yourself.
Try to anticipate distress and support each other
It is understandable to feel vulnerable or overwhelmed reading or hearing news about the outbreak.
Acknowledge these feelings. Remind yourself and others to look after your physical and mental health. If you smoke or drink, try to avoid doing this any more than usual. It won’t help in the long-term.
Don’t make assumptions
Don’t judge people or make assumptions about who is responsible for the spread of the disease. The coronavirus can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, nationality or ethnicity. We are all in this together
Don’t be afraid to get support if you feel low
Times of crisis are stressful and it's normal for people to feel a range of emotions. Consider how you are feeling and what supports could help you during this time.
Check in with health or support services you have been attending to see what way they plan to operate. Many services have already changed to provide support online or make it easier to find harm reduction support. E.g easier access to methadone or high quality homeless accommodation. This may change during the pandemic so try to stay connected and up to date
If relapse does occur, seek support from your service, as they can help you to make the relapse temporary rather than long term
Take a look at our list below of mental health and substance use supports that could help you during the outbreak. These supports range from advice, to free smartphone apps, to online support services.
Drugs.ie Advice for people in drug recovery
Mental Health Ireland Advice for looking after your mental health
Factual information about alcohol can be found at AskAboutAlcohol.ie
The Cannabis and You booklet can help you take a great look at managing your cannabis use
Mental Health support services operating during the outbreak can be found here
Drug and alcohol support services operating during the outbreak can be found here
The HSE Drug and Alcohol Helpline is available Monday – Friday from 9:30 am – 5:30 pm on 1800 459 459 to offer advice and support in relation to drug and alcohol related issues.
Domestic Violence support services can be found on Stillhere.ie
Local link support services can be found here