Mental Health Amid COVID 19

  • To call this COVID 19 experience "A Great Experiment" is an understatement.
  • Extreme behaviors are driven by confusion, anxiety and uncertainty.
  • Risk Management is the Key

May is Mental Health Month. Before addressing the issues of Mental Health amid a Pandemic, I would like to take a moment and recognize all “Essential Frontline Workers.” I particularly want to acknowledge my “Warrior Angels” at the Alzheimer’s Community Care Centers (ACC) where for years I have volunteered providing Music Therapy.

I particularly want to acknowledge my “Warrior Angels” at the Alzheimer’s Community Care Centers (ACC) where for years I have volunteered providing Music Therapy.

I think that they get the music and I get the therapy.   Fact is, I get so very much more than I could ever give my ACC friends and family.  These professionals give of themselves tirelessly in the best of situations.  I am so very proud of you all, and humbled to play a small part.

Alzheimer’s Community Care was founded in 1996 by a group of local residents in Florida, who were concerned about the growing number of people affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related neurocognitive disorders.

Today, the Alzheimer’s Community Care Center is the largest provider of community-based, dementia-specific services in Florida.  These outstanding health care professionals have provided continued compassionate care everyday before and during the Pandemic to one our most vulnerable populations.

Here’s a heartfelt, “Thank You” for all you do.  I salute you!”

Now onto the issue at hand. So, have we really reached a new normal, or is this an unfortunate state of abnormal? To call this COVID 19 experience “A Great Experiment” is an understatement. Have you seen the News? Who could have ever imagined? Protests and Lockdowns. Fear and  Anger fueled by the uncertainty.  Collectively, our Flight, Fight and Freeze Instincts are redlined.

Why? Well, There’s no place to run.  No one to fight, and Freezing in place won’t stop the Virus. It all makes for a great Psycho-Socio Case study of “Control Averse Behavior.”

I have heard some say, “Those people must be crazy…”  Fill in the blanks with the following: “to think that I am going to ever leave my bubble,” or “to think that they can tell me to stay imprisoned for no good reason.” “After all, telling me what to do (stay in or come out) violates my rights,” says each from their polar opposite positions.

Both extreme behaviors are driven by confusion, anxiety and uncertainty. For the most part, this conduct does not fall into what is categorized as “Mental Illness”.  Consequently, this conduct is not necessarily a “Mental Health” issue. It is however a “Behavioral Health” issue. The terms “behavioral health” and “mental health” are often used interchangeably. But, they don’t really mean the same thing.

Some important differences are:

  1. Mental health refers to cognitive and emotional well-being. It is all about how people think, and feel. People sometimes use the term “mental health” to mean the absence of a mental disorder.
  2. Behavioral health includes not only ways of promoting well-being by preventing or intervening in mental illness such as depression or anxiety, but also has as an aim of preventing or intervening in substance abuse or other addictions.
  3. The term “behavioral health” is less stigmatized than “mental health,” so a kinder, gentler name opens doors that might otherwise remain closed for many people.
  4. Behavior is an aspect of identity that can be changed, so “behavioral health” might be a more hopeful concept.
  5. Behavioral health describes the connection between behaviors and the health and well-being of the body, mind and spirit. This would include how behaviors like personal and sleep hygiene, eating habits, drinking, smoking or exercising impact medical, physical or mental aspects of our life.
  6. Some behavioral health topics and issues do not fall into the category of mental health.
  7. On the other hand, mental health is included in behavioral health. As a result, people who have mental health issues can benefit from behavioral health principles.
Mental health refers to cognitive and emotional well-being. It is all about how people think, and feel. People sometimes use the term “mental health” to mean the absence of a mental disorder.

So What is Control Averse Behavior?

Control Averse behavior describes the negative response to exogenous control of one’s decisions and can impede important social interactions, for example between teenagers and authority, therapists and non compliant patients, or employers and employees. Presently, we see it happening between the government and its people.

Control Averse Behavior is conduct that:

  • acts in an opposite position
  • acts opposed to one’s owns interests
  • causing harm

Obviously, the urge to “Rage Against the Machine” and rebel against external control affects social interactions in many facets of our society with potentially far-reaching consequences. But, conduct, even group conduct, such as the need to rebel is complex especially during a crisis.

Of course, rebellious extreme conduct can be detrimental.  If we never come out of our caves, we risk suffering economically, socially and psychologically.  If we disregard expert guidance as we emerge, we risk contamination, contagion and death. This environment is extremely stressful with everyone shouting past each other. In this crisis, as in most crises, we need each other.

It’s a huge ask but, we must strive to understand the motivation behind the behavior, and effectively communicate the impact of the behavior. As the saying goes, ” There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team’, but there are two in ‘Idiot'”.

Or something like that.

Our shelter in place policy was never meant to cure COVID 19. It’s purpose was to buy time and avoid the collapse of our Healthcare System. We succeeded in doing that. Life involves risk. How we manage and mitigate risk is the key.

Risk management is the process of identifying, assessing and controlling threats. These threats could stem from a wide variety of sources, including health and economic uncertainty, as well as natural disasters.

A simple rule of thumb for each of us is to weigh the gravity of harm that would be caused by our actions against the likelihood or probability of the harm occurring.  It’s like a Decision Matrix.

So, if something horrible has a small likelihood of happening, then the threat is low.  Alternatively, if something horrible has a high likelihood of occuring, then the threat is high.

But Risk assessment isn’t simple, particularly during a novel crisis like COVID 19.  We need to set priorities.

Only time will tell if we have weighted the priorities of our Risk Assessment appropriately and “Read the Tea Leaves” correctly.

I hope we do.


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Dana Matthews

Dr Dana Matthews is a Lieutenant Colonel, US Army Ranger (Retired). He holds a BA in Journalism, an MBA/JD Law Degree, and a Doctorate in Organizational Psychology.He is a Member of the National Press Club in Washington DC and has appeared on TV and Radio.He was awarded the Military Order of the Purple Heart for Combat Wounded Veterans.Dr Dana Matthews is a well published Journalist and writer with articles appearing in the Scripps Newspaper/ TCPALM.COMHe also co authored and published a novel entitled " El Segundo- One Man's Journey for Redemption". 

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