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Coping During COVID-19: You Are Not Alone

March 30, 2020

By Denise Perme and Tara Antonipillai

There are no greater treasures than the highest human qualities such as compassion, courage and hope. Not even tragic accident or disaster can destroy such treasures of the heart.
 — Daisaku Ikeda  

The past few weeks have brought tremendous change and challenge to all of us. Coping with how much life has altered in such a short time has been difficult, and many of us were already dealing with significant challenges before the coronavirus outbreak.

We struggled with major depression, anxiety disorders, unhealthy substance use, or childhood trauma. Many of us were already marginalized, lonely, or experiencing extreme financial hardship. We worried about the future. Our level of stress made us wonder how we could continue to cope. In this new reality, life feels unbearable.

Please know you are not alone — we can pull through this crisis together. We can help each other climb out of this dark tunnel with more connection than we had before. We need to focus on taking care of ourselves and our families and on seeking support for our mental and emotional health.

The current environment is extremely challenging to our mental health, and studies show that lawyers already face high rates of substance use and mental health disorders. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting changes to our way of life can exacerbate preexisting conditions such as alcohol use disorder or major depression, in addition to raising our generalized stress and anxiety.

This article offers resources and simple step-by-step advice for handling mental health emergencies, locating a virtual therapist, finding virtual support groups, and maintaining good day-to-day mental health in this time of crisis.  

Virtual Counseling

The D.C. Bar Lawyer Assistance Program offers free mental health and substance use evaluations and short-term counseling. The LAP is set up to provide a full range of services virtually, including a confidential telephone line to reach licensed counselors, assessment and referral services to treatment programs, and secure short-term video counseling. The LAP has put together a list of resources to help you manage stress, anxiety, and other challenges during the coronavirus health crisis.

Counseling contacts and support are also available through your health insurance company and primary care physician, in addition to professional databases and a host of virtual therapy platforms. The federal government recently eased restrictions on mental health providers to allow for patients and licensed practitioners to connect more easily.

Therapists all over the country are transitioning to virtual therapy to assist clients. Psychology Today has an extensive directory of therapists on its website.

Using a secure video telemedical platform, clients have been able to connect with the LAP counselors without interruption. If a client doesn’t have a good enough internet connection for video calls, the counselors can be reached by phone.

Catherine S. Peterson, MSW, LCSW, a licensed therapist in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, notes that “after some adjustment, teletherapy seems to be working, allowing people to connect; talk about their fear, anxiety, and sadness; and increase their calm.” Peterson recommends that clients create a comfortable, private space for themselves, either at home or at work, before starting a session.

Virtual Support Groups for Substance Use

Several recovery groups offer online meetings specifically for lawyers in recovery. The LAP resources list includes 12-step support groups that offer virtual meetings.

General Resources on Stress, Coping & Anxiety

There is a wide array of resources, including webinars and online events, available to help you through this crisis with your physical and mental well-being intact. Some programs were specifically designed for Lawyer Well-Being Week, like this free webinar series. The ABA also has a collection of free programming, some of which includes CLE credits. The Mindfulness in Law Society offers virtual programs geared toward lawyers.

Building Mental Well-Being

Staying physically and mentally strong while working from home can be challenging. The following ideas can help boost mental well-being as you move through your day.

Build Some Movement Into Your Day. Whether you work at a treadmill desk or take your conference calls outside, experiment with moving while you talk. Health experts report that simply integrating walks into your day builds long-term physical and mental health wellness.  

Stay Connected. Use face-to-face technology creatively. Technology allows us to see and hear our colleagues, friends, and families even when we are forced into separate spaces. Take the opportunity to be together virtually through coffee breaks, meetings, classes, or even virtual book clubs to keep connected.  

Practice Radical Self-Compassion. Try to remember during this crisis that all of this is completely new to all of us. It is new to you and you are doing the best you can. Say that out loud every day. If you are a perfectionist, now is the time to lower your expectations of yourself and everyone around you. We can all help each other muddle through. Practice compassion for yourself, your family, and your friends. Remind yourself these are not normal times. None of us are functioning to the best of our abilities, and that is okay. Whatever you are doing to get through these days is good enough.

What to do During a Mental Health Emergency

If you or someone you know are in a crisis, please seek help immediately. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) offers free confidential, around-the-clock support for people in distress as well as prevention and crisis resources for oneself and others.

Peterson reminds clients and family members that 911 emergency service is still available during the COVID-19 pandemic and may be a necessary resource if a friend, family member, or employee is facing a severe mental health crisis.

Denise Perme, LISCW is manager of the D.C. Bar Lawyer Assistance Program. Tara Antonipillai is founder of Tara Antonipillai Wellness, which helps professionals reduce their stress and increase overall well-being through mindfulness and other positive interventions.

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