COVID-19 isolation straining mental health, could lead to addiction

Mental health experts share healthy ways to cope
Posted at 12:23 PM, Apr 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-24 13:41:10-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — For many Americans, the past six weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster. Learning to live with COVID-19 and this new normal may be taking a toll on your mental health.

Between quarantine, social distancing, and working from home, it's hard not to think and worry constantly about the novel coronavirus.

13 HELPS | Coronavirus Resource Guide

13 Action News spoke with two experts who say that feeling and increased emotion is actually normal right now.

"Everyone is different," said David Marlon, a licensed alcohol and drug supervisor with CrossRoads of Southern Nevada.

RELATED: Nevada Health Centers is offering telehealth counseling, addiction services

"Some clients are unaffected and some clients are profoundly affected," he said. "Some are mad and others wonder why everyone's upset. Some are more empathetic to all the loss. Many people are truly distraught."

"Isolation is a word we hear quite often. It’s just leading to a lot of anxiety," added Jessica Hennessey, an RN and senior vice president of clinical operations with Teachers Health Trust. "There’s a lot of uncertainty. I'm seeing levels of stress like nothing before."

These mental health experts say the source of all that stress is isolation.

"As humans, we are social beings and I think isolation can be quite concerning," said Hennessey.

Marlon says increased isolation is even more concerning because it can quickly lead to addiction.

"It usually coincides with isolation. So, the fact that the government is asking us to self-isolate and the fact that that is an attribute of late stage addiction is a dangerous combination," said Marlon.

Millions of Americans are turning to the bottle during this pandemic. According to market research firm Nielsen, the booze business is booming during this pandemic, peaking around March 21, when alcohol sales were up 55% compared to the same time last year.

RELATED: Quarantine can spark new addictions, trigger old ones

"Now is the time when we're under more stress. Now is the time when things are different and we are isolated more. So, we all need to have a more heightened awareness about the potential for slipping into the cycle of addiction," said Marlon, who has been sober now for 15 years.

Marlon says when it comes to how much alcohol is too much, everyone is different. But, he encourages everyone to be aware of the warning signs.

"Recognize that your brain has probably built up some defense mechanisms, telling you, 'I saw on the internet that it’s healthy for me.' You might be justifying it, and you should keep yourself in check. If you’re hiding it, if you find yourself drinking more than you used to and you have to not share it or not let people know you are, those are telltale signs that you want to look for. If you have relationship troubles, if you have legal troubles, and it’s just being exacerbated by your substance use, then it is a problem," said Marlon.

So, how do we deal with all of this added stress and anxiety in a healthy way?

Hennessey's first suggestion is what's called dialectical behavior therapy, or as she describes it, learning to live in the moment.

"Getting fresh air or taking a steamy shower or putting a cold pack on your head, all those things can serve as distractions to take your mind off of the stressors," said Hennessey.

Hennessey adds that learning to love a new activity, like meditation, is a healthy way to clear your mind and keep yourself from constantly thinking about COVID-19.

"Whether it be cooking, or doing puzzles, or going out for a walk, or making jewelry, whatever it is that gets you going, as long as there is a distraction. It takes you away from that pervasive thought," said Hennessey.

Both Marlon and Hennessey agree, the key to coping with coronavirus concerns is to connect and communicate.

"Connecting with people beyond work tasks is really important. I think talking about the feelings is important. I think, it being a collective stress, it’s brought a lot of light on how people can cope and compartmentalize those stressors. It just lessons the stigma to be able to talk about it," said Hennessey.


"The system of denial tells us we don’t have a problem. So, communicating in zoom meetings or telemedicine, communicating much like we are right now with others, being open, honest, and sharing where you’re at, that’s a primary reason support meetings work well. Rather than hiding, I could reach out and I could talk to people and try to help them," said Marlon.

Here are some of the free resources available in the Las Vegas Valley:

  • CrossRoads of Southern Nevada - a drug and alcohol addiction treatment center offering free resources and walk-in sessions.
  • 1-800-780-2294 - speak with an alcohol or drug abuse counselor on the phone for free.
  • 2-1-1 or 1-866-535-5654 - Nevada 2-1-1, helping Nevadans connect with the mental health services they need.
  • Never Give Up - offering behavioral health services and free support group via ZOOM on Wednesdays at 10am. Call (702) 951-9751 to reserve a spot.
  • 702-780-0738 - designated behavioral health hotline for Clark County teachers who belong to Teachers Health Trust.
  • 702-506-5136 - Thrive Solutions therapy & treatment for substance use and/or mental health