March 2020 Newsletter
On January 30th, the World Health Organization declared the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). Countries around the world have aimed to slow and stop transmission, prevent and delay outbreaks and minimize the impact of the epidemic on health systems.
Taking an integrative approach to COVID-19 preparedness and response may not only minimize the impact on physical health, but also promote mental health and psychosocial wellness. Research has shown that less than twenty percent of health and longevity is attributable to medical care while the other eighty percent is determined by factors largely outside of conventional medicine, including social, environmental, and behavioral determinants.
Adopting an integrative approach to COVID-19 prevention presents an opportunity to incorporate other appropriate mental, emotional, functional, spiritual, social, and community aspects to promote overall individual and community wellbeing.
1. Preserve Mental Health While Staying Informed
Repeated exposure to turmoil in the media can negatively impact both physical and mental health. Continuous media consumption may also distract from participating in other healthy activities like engaging with loved ones, exercising, enjoying hobbies, reading, and practicing mindfulness or spiritual activities.
Pay attention to how often you access different types of media and how you feel afterwards. Although a near-constant stream of news coverage of COVID-19 is available, it can be helpful to minimize watching, reading or listening to media that causes stress or anxiety.
Stay informed about COVID-19 by seeking updates and practical prevention measures at specific times during the day. Plan times into your day when you will catch up on the news. During those windows, focus on gathering information from reliable sources like health professionals, local public health authorities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
2. Stay Socially Connected During Physical Distancing
Currently, there are no vaccines or specific pharmaceutical treatments available for COVID-19. Although clinical trials are underway, a viable vaccine could take 12 to 18 months. In the interim, the best way to prevent contracting the virus is to avoid being exposed altogether by adhering to public health guidelines, including social distancing.
To effectively practice social distancing, maintain six feet between you and other people in public spaces, avoid social gatherings and limit nonessential travel. If you can, it is also helpful to work from home, avoid shaking hands and touching public surfaces, and wash your hands with soap when you go inside.
Although social distancing is required to slow the spread of the virus, research has shown that a lack of social connectedness is greatly detrimental to mental and physical wellbeing. Technology, like video conferencing, social media and e-mail, can help fight loneliness and build social solidarity while promoting public health.
When practicing social distancing, find ways to nurture positive and supportive relationships. Consider joining an online community, calling an old friend, engaging with co-workers through video conferencing, participating in a virtual dance party or exercise class, or even enrolling in an online course.
3. Share Practical, Preventative Actions to Dismantle Social Stigma
Nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) are simple, everyday preventative actions that help slow the spread of illness during an infectious disease outbreak, such as COVID-19. Everyday preventative actions may occur on a community level, like social distancing and school closures, on an environmental level, like routine surface cleaning, or on a personal level, like covering coughs, proper handwashing, and staying home when you are sick.
Despite public health education efforts, the COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in social stigma against people of certain ethnicities as well as towards people who are suspected to have been in contact with the virus. During an infectious disease outbreak, stigma has been shown to hamper response.
When social stigma is present during an outbreak, infected people may hide symptoms of illness or even delay seeking treatment in order to avoid discrimination. Stigma may also prevent healthy individuals from practicing infection-prevention behaviors.
While emphasizing the effectiveness of everyday preventative actions can help reduce stigma and fear around communicable diseases, proliferating negative messages has been shown to limit community response. To help combat stigma around COVID-19, consider showing empathy with those affected and sharing practical measures to help people keep themselves and their loved ones safe.
4. Practice Self-Compassion While Developing New Routines
As daily life changes in response to COVID-19, many people are having to adjust how they do everyday things, from conducting business to shopping for groceries. Maintaining familiar routines as much as possible or developing new routines can help mitigate stress, prioritize self-care, cultivate healthy habits, and cope with change.
Consider how you can incorporate the five interconnected dimensions of wellness into your routine to reduce boredom, help avoid stress-related immune system suppression and promote overall wellbeing:
- Physical Wellness- Optimize physical health by following a sleep-wake schedule, prioritizing healthy nutrition and engaging in regular exercise.
- Social Wellness- Foster a sense of connection and belonging by staying in regular contact with loved ones, checking on neighbors and participating in virtual social groups or activities.
- Emotional Wellness- Express feelings and manage stress effectively by reframing negative thoughts, playing with pets, or engaging in activities that you find relaxing.
- Spiritual Wellness- Appreciate what is meaningful to you by meditating, expressing gratitude, practicing yoga or religion, appreciating music or art, or spending time in nature.
- Intellectual Wellness- Learn about what interests you by reading, learning a new language, listening to podcasts, watching documentaries, playing games or solving puzzles.
Although cultivating a daily routine can be helpful, it is important to do so with self-compassion. Give yourself permission to make mistakes while adjusting to the ever-changing COVID-19 landscape. This is a unique and unprecedented time during which you should prioritize whatever allows you the mental and emotional space to feel your best.
When people practice self-compassion, they also experience greater social connectedness, happiness and overall psychological wellbeing. It can be helpful to remember that you and your loved ones are not alone in facing this challenging time. Public health experts around the world are working to ensure the best care for those affected, and by practicing preventative actions, you are giving doctors, nurses and hospitals a chance at improving quality of care.
5. Help Others and Know When to Seek Help For Yourself
Assisting others in their time of need can help reduce stress, improve self-esteem and benefit physical health. Helping others often benefits the helper as much as the person receiving the support.
Over the next few weeks, consider checking-in by phone with neighbors or people in your community who may be at greater risk of experiencing serious complications from COVID-19, for example older adults and those with underlying medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease. Volunteering to do simple tasks, like grocery shopping, can go a long way for those who may be quarantined.
Students who relied on free or subsidized lunches, low-wage and service industry workers facing unemployment, and food banks limited by volunteer and canned-food shortages, are also in need of support. Donating to organizations offering assistance to those in need is another way to help and build social solidarity during COVID-19.
Managing your mental health and psychosocial wellbeing during this time is as important as managing your physical health. Avoid using tobacco, alcohol or other drugs which can worsen your mental and physical wellbeing. Pay attention to emotional patterns and any unexplainable or uncontrollable feelings of sadness or withdrawal. Remember that seeking help early from a mental health professional can make a big difference.
Although government-imposed quarantines were fairly common in Ancient times, quarantine first received its modern moniker when the Black Death arrived in Europe. In an effort to reduce disease spread among coastal cities, ships arriving in Venice during the mid 1300s were required to remain at anchor for 40 days before entering their destination port. The word, quarantine, by which we know the practice today, is derived from the Italian words quarantenara and quaranta giorni, or 40 days.
As an additional precaution, Venice established its first quarantine station, Lazzaretto Vecchio (Old Quarantine), on an island to serve as a sequestered hospital for people infected with the plague. In 1468, Lazzaretto Nuovo (New Quarantine) was constructed as a way station for incoming ships and cargo, where crews could be thoroughly searched for symptoms of illness before entering the densely crowded streets of Venice.
Tell us about your choice to specialize in psychiatry and describe your current practice.
I became a psychiatrist because I have always been fascinated by stories, and every one of us has a story. There were several specialties that I was choosing between, but ultimately, psychiatry felt like the most human of them all. I am an adult psychiatrist and my sub-speciality is addiction medicine. My practice is pretty diverse: I do quite a bit of medication management and TMS, but I also see patients in the Emergency Room and I practice some psychotherapy as well.
What role do psychiatrists play during infectious disease outbreaks like COVID-19?
I think psychiatrists and therapists and all mental health professionals play a very important role in times like these. This pandemic is something that truly has impacted every single one of us, and it is going to get more difficult before it gets better. Being depressed or anxious at this time is completely understandable, and it is so important that mental health providers validate this. There are a lot of other, nuanced things that we must continue to do (prescribe medications, psychotherapy, etc.), but I think the most important role we can fulfill for our patients is simply to bear witness to what they are experiencing. It may seem trite, but knowing that someone understands you and what you are going through really does make things more tolerable. So by being empathic, we have the ability to make our patients feel understood, heard, seen, and cared for.
What tips would you give mental health clinicians whose clients or patients express worry about COVID-19?
For those of us who are treating patients who are worried, I think it is very important to both validate their feelings and help them maintain perspective. Unfortunately, patients should be worried at this time- this is a very serious public health crisis. Hopefully, some worry will motivate people do their part and comply with social distancing, and other guidelines. I think it is also important to note that this crisis, like everything, is impermanent, and we will get through it. We can validate our patients’ fears, help them maintain perspective, and at the same time, encourage our patients to have compassion for themselves. We can empower our patients to permit themselves to be scared or anxious or sad, because it really is ok to feel these things, especially right now.
Now Offering Telepsychiatry!
March 16, 2020, Torrance, CA
Neuro Wellness Spa Palm Desert was honored to sponsor today’s Gratitude Ride in support of ABC Club’s Perinatal Program
Our North Torrance Center Has Moved!
March 16, 2020, Torrance, CA
Old Address: 18119 Prairie Ave, Torrance, CA
New Address: 18411 Crenshaw Blvd STE 360, Torrance, CA
Neuro Wellness Spa North Torrance has moved! Dr. Lichtman and his expert clinical team are thrilled to grow and expand into the beautiful Iowa Courthouse Building. To schedule a tour of our newest space, or to visit any of our locations, please request a tour via: https://neurowellnessspa.com/for-providers/
Dr. Martha Koo, MD Elected to the Board of Directors of the Clinical TMS Society
March 19, 2020
Dr. Martha Koo, MD is one of nine expert TMS physicians who was elected to serve on the Board of Directors for a three-year term. The Society hopes to assist members in optimizing the administration of TMS, develop novel indications for TMS therapy, expand insurance coverage, increase public awareness of TMS, and advertise individual TMS clinics.
5th Mental Health Meetup Dinner
March 3, 2020, The Depot Restaurant
It was such a privilege to host almost 70 local clinicians at The Depot for our 5th mental health meetup dinner. Thank you to all of our attendees who joined us for networking and a powerful presentation on the naturopathic approaches to mental health by Dr. Allie McLane, ND.
WeWork Educational Lunch
February 19, 2020, WeWork
Co-working spaces are for social connection, and it was such a pleasure to lead an educational lunch on strategies for mental health and wellbeing. Thank you to all of those who joined Dr. Martha Koo, MD for practical tips on fostering mental wellness.
Yoga for Mental Health
Februrary 19, Allomi
It was a pleasure to host a complimentary yoga for mental health class at Allomi, a sanctuary for holistic health and healing. Thank you to all of those who came out to meditate and practice with our Founder and Medical Director, Dr. Martha Koo, MD. Dr. Koo is pictured with Amber Susa Jewett, Founder of Allomi, and Kelly, Allomi Vinyasa Yoga Instructor.
Finding Freedom LGBTQ Symposium
January 24-25, 2020, Palm Springs
It was a pleasure to sponsor the annual Finding Freedom LGBTQ Symposium in Palm Springs. Our clinical team was inspired by the conversation and connection surrounding the unique issues facing sexual identity and co-occurring disorders treatment.
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