Cuomo calls on mental health professionals to volunteer during pandemic — so far, 6,175 have

By Sophie Lewis

/ CBS News

How to manage stress amid coronavirus outbreak

During his daily press briefing on the state of the coronavirus in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo took a moment to focus on an often-forgotten aspect of the pandemic: mental health. The governor wanted to remind people that staying healthy mentally is just as important as staying healthy physically.

On Wednesday morning, Cuomo announced that 6,175 mental health professionals have signed up to provide free online mental health services during the COVID-19 pandemic. "How beautiful is that?" the governor said of the number of volunteers.

"No one's really talking about this. We're all concerned about the immediate critical need, the life and death of the immediate situation, but don't underestimate the emotional trauma that people are feeling and the emotional health issues," Cuomo said.

Coronavirus: The Race To Respond

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The governor said that anyone currently struggling with their mental health can call the hotline and schedule a free appointment with a professional.

"Again, God bless the 6,000 mental health professionals, who are doing this 100% free, on top of whatever they have to do in their normal practice," Cuomo said. "I am sure in their normal practice they're busy, this is really an extraordinary step by them."

In NY we are concerned about the mental health part of this pandemic, too.

We can’t underestimate that.

For FREE emotional support, consultation, and referral to a provider, call 1-844-863-9314

— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) March 25, 2020

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 people in the U.S. suffer from mental illness, and 1 in 25 from severe mental illness. And while stress, anxiety and fear can be useful in driving people to take healthy actions, it can become dangerous if left unmanaged.

Social distancing, which is now required in many regions across the country to slow the spread of the virus, can complicate and exacerbate some mental illnesses, including anxiety and depression.

"This is increased anxiety for everyone," Dr. Ken Duckworth, medical director of NAMI, told CBS News earlier this month. "So if you already have an anxiety disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, or unstable housing, or you're already isolated, this is going to compound your problems."

Mental health professionals say that these feelings are completely natural during an infectious disease outbreak.

"You might feel more on edge than usual, angry, helpless or sad. You might notice that you are more frustrated with others or want to completely avoid any reminders of what is happening," said the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). "It's important to note that we are not helpless in light of current news events."

Resources such as teletherapy are becoming more widely available during the pandemic. And social media has become an even more valuable resource, especially for children and teenagers, who may have higher stress levels during this time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"In some ways, there's probably never been a better time in history for us to stay connected while being physically apart," psychologist and CBS News contributor Lisa Damour told CBS Evening News anchor Norah O'Donnell. "I myself, I am texting all my friends, I am checking in, I'm sending little notes saying I'm thinking of you, I am calling people I haven't talked to in a while. We have these resources, we should be using them."

"Humans need one another and we can support one another through this," she said.

Coronavirus, anxiety and fear

According to the CDC, stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include fear over your health or the health of loved ones, changes in sleep and eating patterns, difficulty concentrating, worsening of chronic health problems and increased use of substances such as alcohol.

To combat these worries, the CDC encourages taking breaks from media surrounding the pandemic, taking care of your body through practices like meditation and exercise, making time to unwind and connecting with others.

"Get help, talk to your therapist, have a support system. If you need to do more face time — we're not going to have as many in-person interactions especially if you're sick or self-quarantined or self-distancing, but don't stop the support system that is so important. We need help more than ever before," Dr. Sue Varma told "CBS This Morning."

Encouraging distraction, rather than allowing fixation, is another key way to calm anxiety during the isolation period.

"Anxiety is OK, stress is OK, but when it becomes chronic that can really take it out of people," Damour said. "It's actually important to be able to distract yourself. Check out from time to time go watch a funny movie, go call someone who you can just have a light conversation with. Give yourself breaks from it."

First published on March 25, 2020 / 1:51 PM

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