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  • Deb Urbanik

Sometimes a simple observation can save a life

We are noticing a lot about each other these days. Is that checkout person wearing a mask? Are we at least 6 feet away from each other? Was that Prime delivery driver wearing rubber gloves? COVID-19 is causing us to be vigilant in ways we never have before about our behaviors and the actions of those around us. But let's face it, Coronavirus is affecting us on multiple fronts. It is taking lives by attacking our physical health and our mental health. Recently ABC News shared that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) saw an 891% increase in call volume compared with March 2019. We must expand our powers of observation for those we care about beyond their physical symptoms and include behavioral shifts that might indicate that a family member, friend or colleague may be experiencing anxiety, depression or thoughts of suicide. NAMI shares that each illness has its own symptoms, but common signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents can include the following:

  • Excessive worrying or fear

  • Feeling excessively sad or low

  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning

  • Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria

  • Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger

  • Avoiding friends and social activities

  • Difficulties understanding or relating to other people

  • Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy

  • Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite

  • Changes in sex drive

  • Difficulty perceiving reality (delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don't exist in objective reality)

  • Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality (”lack of insight” or anosognosia)

  • Abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs

  • Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)

  • Thinking about suicide (see below for high-risk signs)

  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress

  • An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance

If you see these kinds of changes in someone you care about, one of the best things you can do is reach out to say, "I've noticed you are not yourself lately". Listen and let them know that you are there and that you care. While you cannot solve their problems, that is best left to the professionals, you can let them know they are not alone and point them to resources where they can find some support and help. The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET. 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or NAMI further outlines the warning signs of suicide and emphasizes that suicidal behaviors are a psychiatric emergency. If you observe someone you are concerned about taking any of these steps, seek immediate help from a health care provider or call 911:

  • Collecting and saving pills or buying a weapon

  • Giving away possessions

  • Tying up loose ends, like organizing personal papers or paying off debts

  • Saying goodbye to friends and family

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Call 800-273-TALK (8255) These are unprecedented times and acts of kindness and caring are all around us. Let's make sure that our compassionate observation of our family, friends and co-workers includes watching out for changes in their physical and mental well-being. Sometimes a simple observation can save a life.

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