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How Are You Doing? Addressing Mental Health During The Coronavirus Outbreak

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Phil Burger
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Are you used to what’s going on yet?

Staying at home. Avoiding contact with people. Not going to work. No school.

Is that something we, as social creatures, will ever get used to?

The stay-at-home orders and all that means can be trying for even the sanest of people.

Katherine Hertlein, a UNLV professor of psychology and licensed marriage and family therapist, answered questions from listeners who are trying to navigate this new social paradigm.

Hertlein said she is getting a lot more calls from clients but not any new clients - so far.

She said a lot of families are contacting her about communication issues that may have not been a problem before, but now, after spending 24 hours seven days a week with someone the problem has become apparent.

"One of the things that has started to happen with this situation as people have been together more is they are more observant. They're taking more notes, I guess, on their partner's behavior and when that happens they start to make different interpretations," she said.

Hertlein said if the new interpretations are positive everything is fine but when people start interpreting their partners' intentions as negative there is more conflict.

Also, since the pandemic and lockdown order happened so quickly a lot of families didn't get a chance to navigate how roles in the family would change. 

"Families and couples that operate with a lot of flexibility are the families that are the most successful," she said,  

Hertlein said it is important for families to talk about how roles have changed when stress was introduced into the situation.

Besides families talking about the new roles they're in, she also advised the couples have a conversation about sex. Sex drive can change during a traumatic event and normal routines of intimacy can change when normal day-to-day routines have been upended.

"One of the things we want to think about is taking the myth of what sex is supposed to be off the table," she said, "If we move away from goal-oriented sex... and focusing only on performance, that's going to be a worse outcome."

She said couples should re-define what physical intimacy is going to look like.

Hertlein said during this difficult time where there is a lot of uncertainty, grief, loss, fear and anxiety it is important to just stop and let yourself feel those feelings.

"Part one is to acknowledge the feelings that are going on," she said, "You've got to actually sit and feel the feelings in order to process them and to get through that moment."

She said this is a traumatic event and since the end is ambiguous it is hard for people to deal with that sense of loss.

Hertlein does caution that people not turn to unhealthy habits like drugs and alcohol to cope, but find healthy behaviors to get through the stress. 

 

If you’re in crisis, there is help available.

Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

More mental health resources:

Katherine Hertlein, UNLV psychology professor, marriage and family therapist

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.