Jessica Pollard holding Mental health affects everyone signIt’s National Public Health Week! We’re spotlighting this year’s daily NPHW themes with a series of guest posts from APHA members. Today’s NPHW theme is mental health, and our guest post comes from Jessica Pollard, PhD, director of the Office of Behavioral Health at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Pollard currently serves as chair of APHA’s Mental Health Section.

During times of crisis, it’s important to remember that psychological well-being is a critical piece of our overall health.

While the vast majority of us won’t contract the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, many of us will experience the heightened stress, anxiety and mental fatigue that accompany a global pandemic. Physical distancing, financial uncertainty, concern over one’s safety and that of loved ones, and disruption to routines all pose threats to mental health. Some of us may feel isolated, depressed or irritable. Some will have trouble sleeping and concentrating, while others will cope by under- or over-eating. For those already living with behavioral health disorders, disasters present a time of increased risk for worsening symptoms and substance use.

All of that underscores the importance of monitoring mental health changes during an infectious disease outbreak and identifying vulnerable and at-risk communities. Ideally, public health surveillance should include behavioral health indicators, while official health messaging should include education on the early warning signs of mental health decline and information on coping strategies, building resilience and finding support. Public health response plans should also include actions for addressing distress, as well as direct and indirect trauma, and for rapidly scaling up behavioral health treatment capacity and managing increased psychiatric acuity.

Experienced disaster response professionals are often keenly aware of the mental health challenges brought on by significant stress. However, it’s not only in times of crisis that we as a public health community should be talking about mental health. Let’s promote knowledge of behavioral health disorders, awareness of increased suicide risk, and the many ways of increasing well-being and resilience while we respond to COVID-19 and its aftermath. Then, let’s keep the conversation going.

For more information about managing your behavioral health during an infectious disease outbreak, check out these tips from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. If you are having difficulty coping, don’t hesitate to contact SAMHSA’s 24/7 Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746 to connect with a trained professional.

To learn more about National Public Health Week and get involved, visit www.nphw.org. And don’t forget to join APHA and public health partners nationwide for the annual NPHW Twitter Chat on Wednesday, April 8, at 2 p.m. EST. Follow @NPHW on Twitter and use the hashtag #NPHW.

For resources, news and advocacy on the coronavirus pandemic, visit APHA’s COVID-19 page. For more on how each day’s NPHW theme intersects with COVID-19, visit nphw.org/nphw-2020/covid-19.