By Juanita Carnes FNP, Board of Health chair and Joe Rouse, health director

Westfield Health Director

It would be nice to wake up tomorrow morning and find I fell asleep watching a low budget psychological thriller about a social experiment on our world population. Every country experiencing a massive death toll and going into lockdown from a mutating virus.

During a time when we have been focused on threats to our physical health, we need to remember that our mental health is just as important. No numbers and statistics this week. We have all suffered too many tangible and intangible losses throughout this pandemic. The many effects and changes are far too numerous to count. The magnitude of losses and changes in our life highly influence our emotional and mental health. Public Health includes promoting wellness, healthy behaviors and emphasizing the importance of good mental health.

Everyone reacts differently to stressors. Those brought on by an infectious disease outbreak include illness, grief without traditional funerals, loneliness, financial/employment changes, housing issues, quarantine, fear, social activities halted, exercise deterrents, rumors and speculation, separation from family and friends, child care issues, adopting e-learning and zoom meetings, making tough moral decisions and changes in access to medical care. Our lives have been interrupted. This inescapable stress may cause excessive worry and anxiety about your own and loved ones’ health, depression, changes in sleep and eating patterns, worsening of chronic medical and mental health problems and increased use of tobacco, alcohol or other drugs. You are not alone. Millions worldwide are sharing in some version of this experience.

Chair, Westfield Board of Health

There are many things one can do on their own to cope:

*Maintain a routine.

*Take breaks from media sources. Know your own breaking point of watching too much news. Make sure the news and information you receive are from quality, current sources.

* Take care of your body. Maintain your sleep and eating patterns. Exercise at home or go for walks. Exercise is a great stress reliever and boosts your mood. Good nutrition is important. Practice yoga, mindfulness or meditate. Avoid excessive alcohol, tobacco or substance abuse.

* Stay connected and compassionate. Phone calls, texts, letters, cards, emails etc. * Draw strength from your belief system.

* Be kind to yourself. Acknowledge your feelings.

* If working from home, don’t blur work and home. Set up a work area and schedule.

* Continue with your previous mental health and medical care providers. Virtual visits are a very good option.

* Volunteer and help others. Besides helping someone else, you will be surprised how much better it will make you feel.

* If you are doing all these things and are still feeling too overwhelmed, reach out and ask for help. Contact family/friends, your health department, the Senior Center, your spiritual leader, employee assistance program, your primary care provider or mental health professional.

The US Department of Health & Human Services has videos, helplines and many resources for coping during the COVID-19 pandemic. Contact organizations such as National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) or Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), In Western Massachusetts, contact the Center for Human Development, and Behavioral Health Network. Our health department has CORE for substance abuse along with other resources to offer. Coming out of this pandemic will bring new challenges and hopefully new opportunities. Overcoming hard times builds resiliency. Hopefully each one of us, our community, nation and world will be stronger in the end. While we continue to ride on this roller coaster of hope and bad news, awaiting the end of this pandemic, take care of yourself and someone else. And know you are not alone. “Even in its darkest passages, the heart is unconquerable. It is important that the body survives, but it is more meaningful that the human spirit prevails.” (Dave Pelzer)

Dedicated health department members who have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic are: Debra Mulvenna RN, Assistant Director Evelyn Bristol RN, Steve Cipriani, Health Inspector Thomas Hibert, Health Inspector Cheryl McMordie, Office Manager Crystal Dugay, Kathi Cotugno, CORE coordinator

Other Board Members: Margaret Doody, Stan Strzempko MD

WE KEEP WORKING TO KEEP YOU SAFE Wear your mask. Wash your hands. Keep your distance. Avoid gatherings. Stay home. Save lives.

Look for us in next Saturday’s edition.


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