After the Garden State surpassed 200,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said the pandemic’s impact on mental health cannot be ignored.
Since March, New Jerseyeans have been asked to wear masks, distance from one another and avoid public places in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“We know that this new normal will persist for the foreseeable future. And all these factors are causing what is called ‘pandemic fatigue,’” Persichilli said during Gov. Phil Murphy’s coronavirus briefing on Sept. 21.
She defined it as a general sense of weariness and exhaustion from dealing with what feels like a never-ending battle.
“People may also feel helpless, sad and irritable. Those experiencing this fatigue may have trouble focusing or may have trouble with eating, or they may be sleeping less, or more than usual or lack motivation or become withdrawn,” she continued.
As of Sept. 22, New Jersey has 200,580 confirmed coronavirus cases and 14,285 virus-related deaths. The state remains in Stage 2 of its multi-phase reopening plan, which allows for the return of indoor dining, fitness centers and schools, with limited capacity and safety procedures.
While state health officials say that they have yet to see evidence of a second wave of COVID-19 in New Jersey, they continue to track data and urge residents to keep on practicing safety measures.
Social Support Is Key
“All of us have experienced a significant disruption in our day-to-day lives,” Persichilli said. “We’ve been separated from loved ones, friends and colleagues. Some of us have lost those closest to us from the illness still struggle with long-term health effects, and many families have been financially devastated.
“Restrictions on our lives such as limits on social gatherings like weddings and funerals have changed how we mark important milestones, and we know that these restrictions must continue for a while,” she said.
Although people may feel burned out, Persichilli urged them to take care of their mental and physical health.
Steps for Better Health
Those steps includes:
- Getting more sleep
- Eating nutritious foods
- Unplugging from social media and the news
- Reading a book, taking a walk or trying another calming activity
- Connecting with family or friends by phone or video chat
“Social support is vital to mitigating stress. As tired as we all are from battling of the pandemic, we have to continue to take precautions such as wearing face coverings and social distancing because this virus is still circulating and we need to stay the course in this fight. It’s like running a marathon. It’s a long race and we are all going to get to the finish line, but it’s going to take time and perseverance,” she said.
For those dealing with stress, anxiety or depression, New Jersey’s mental health care helpline is available at 866-202-HELP.
Uptick In Drug-Related Deaths
Additionally, state health officials have observed a year-over-year increase in suspected drug-related deaths, something they believe is tied to the pandemic.
“We know that when individuals are dealing with mental health stressors, some may turn to alcohol and drugs to cope,” Persichilli said. “Overall, the state has seen a 12% increase in suspected drug-related deaths from January to July 2020 when compared to the same period last year.”
So far, there has been 1,834 suspected overdose deaths in New Jersey between Jan. 1 and July 31, according to NJCares.gov.
As part of the Murphy Administration’s continued effort to combat the opioid crisis, the state health department plans to offer free Narcan distribution at pharmacies from Sept. 24 to 26.
Individuals who are struggling with substance use can call 844-ReachNJ to get immediate support and assistance, as well as information on treatment.
Persichilli made a point to differentiate between those who are mentally struggling with “the new normal” and those who choose not to follow safety precautions as a personal choice.
“I think that the overwhelming feeling of helplessness and wanting this to end is different than willful ignorance of wearing a mask when you think you’re invincible, if you’re young,” said Persichilli. “You’d say, well, my friend had it, he or she just got a little sick. I can do that, no problem. I think that’s a different issue.”
“The issue we were talking about is true, the emotional wellbeing of people really being affected by such a change in our normal day-to-day lives,” she said.