It goes without saying that these are strange and stressful times. Uncertainty, isolation and a disruption of routines. It can be overwhelming, but the state is providing help.
New Jersey Mental Health Cares, the state’s behavioral health information and referral service, is partnering with the nonprofit Mental Health Association of New Jersey on a helpline for those who may be feeling overwhelmed.
“It’s a combination of counselors, peer support or other individuals who are there to help as a resource for individuals across our state who are feeling anxious or stressed in these difficult times, so that there is someone they can talk to,” said Carole Johnson, the state’s Human Services commissioner. “We have both that resource, people they can talk to, and, if needed, those individuals can make referrals to other clinicians.”
Staffers from the Mental Health Association of New Jersey field between 250 and 325 calls a day from their offices in Union County and, keeping up with social distancing norms, from their homes.
Betty Jean, who runs the call center, says callers’ concerns run the gamut, from parents having to work at home with their children there, too, to seniors, who are often forced into isolation by family trying not to get them sick.
“It is two different levels of stress. With seniors, we have people who are feeling maybe just a bit more isolated and they have all this information coming at them and there’s very little they can do on their own, so the feeling of anxiety, feelings of overwhelming stress, can increase for our seniors. And how important it is for us to pay attention and look out for one another in unprecedented ways,” explained Jean.
“And there’s parents who are still working and juggling the lives of their children every day,” she adds. “The most important things that families can do is to provide some measure of security and structure and have lots of fun. Laugh and have fun as a family. We won’t see times like this again, so we’re encouraging families, moms and dads to have fun with their kids.”
Help in an uncertain time
Johnson says the biggest stress trigger is often the uncertainty.
“People are not certain how long this situation will last or how to ensure that they are doing everything that they can, everything they feel is appropriate,” she says, “and so we just want to reassure people that that is a normal reaction.”
And having someone to talk to about it is important.
One more thing Jean recommends is not overdosing on information. Get the news you need, but then it’s OK to turn the TV off and, if you’re lucky enough to have family with you, engage with them.
If not, call the help line at (866) 202-HELP as often as needed.