More than ever before, all Americans, including Veterans, must pay attention to our emotional well-being and the well-being of those we love as we cope with the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This isn’t an option – it’s a necessity. Just as washing our hands, disinfecting surfaces and maintaining physical distance is required to minimize the impact of this pandemic, so too is caring for our mental health and the mental health of those around us. In response to this emergency, we need a fundamental shift in how we promote and maintain our mental health.
Fortunately, there is reason to be optimistic. We have recently seen a shift in how Veterans are beginning to think about the importance of emotional well-being. There is more openness and more sharing – but at this time during this crisis we need them to actively engage in behaviors that will enhance their overall psychological functioning, protect the emotional health of their kids and support the mental health of those who are struggling.
To that end, my office, the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS), has launched a messaging campaign specifically in response to the COVID-19 crisis called, More Than Ever Before. This campaign is designed to help people respond to the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic by encouraging them to care for their mental health – and support those they love – every day.
This public health prevention campaign is available on www.facebook.com/WeArePREVENTS. We are providing information, tips and resources to help Veterans manage their stress — and to help them reach others who are vulnerable.
Here are key steps to take:
- Recognize the importance of your own psychological well-being.
- Do your own psychological assessment regularly. If you need them, there are self-assessment tools online. Do your research and look for tools that are recommended by reputable sources.
- If you are in therapy or counseling – continue by phone, telehealth platform or text. The additional support will be helpful for you and your family.
- Please talk to your kids. They are dealing with this crisis and your support can have a positive effect on the long-term impact it will have. You don’t need to have all of the answers – listening and talking to kids in age appropriate ways can be extremely helpful. There are many resources online for additional information.
- Remember to connect with family, friends, neighbors and other Veterans to both ask for and provide support. There are many creative ways to communicate while maintaining physical distancing including using the phone, email, texts messaging and video calls.
- Share how you’re doing, what works for you, what doesn’t – with family, friends, neighbors (while maintaining physical distancing).
- Please reach out to those who are struggling.
- If you are worried about harming yourself or are having worsening thoughts of suicide, including making a plan, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, or text 838255.
- For Veterans who are receiving care at a VA hospital or interested in signing up, please visit VA’s Mental Health Coronavirus webpage.
There is little doubt that this crisis will change all of us forever. If we all step into this challenge, we will limit emotional suffering, save lives and lay the foundation for a mentally healthier nation going forward.
Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D., is the executive director for the PREVENTS Task Force