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#CoronaCurious: mental health at home

#CoronaCurious: mental health at home

Members of the FIU community are asking smart questions about the coronavirus every day. So each week, FIU News will tackle some of the questions and get you the answers.

April 3, 2020 at 10:25am

Social distancing for many may trigger feelings of insecurity, depression or isolation.

FIU News interviewed Mark Macgowan—associate dean of academic affairs at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work and a licensed clinical social worker, who serves on one of Florida’s Federal Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, FL-5—to ask him some questions that many of you have been asking.

What should individuals do if they are feeling alone and isolated as a result of working from home and social distancing?

“It is extremely important to build a support team and connect with them on a regular basis," Macgowan says, "A recent study in Lancet documented that connecting with a support network even electronically, ‘is not just a key priority, but an inability to do so is associated not just with immediate anxiety, but longer- term distress’.

"So, whether by video or audio, call your family or friends. Include a regular time every week (or two) when you meet by video just to hang out and check in. You can prop your phone or tablet to free your hands so you can include your favorite beverage or snack in your social time.”

  • Use the time to reach out to relatives you have not communicated with for a while, who live in other countries. This is a perfect time to check in with them by email, text, voice or video.
  • Being at home is also the time to develop or re-connect with activities you haven't been able to do before or haven't done enough, which include hobbies. Here is a list of activities that are popular right now.
  • Listen to favorite music. Try uplifting music playlists, such as Amazon’s “Virtual Hug” or iTunes “Lift your spirits.”
  • It is also important to be very careful about what you are connecting with. Connect with news only two or at most three times a day and shut off automatic news feeds.

What are some tips to help people stay connected to friends and family? This is the time to make the best of what can be a difficult situation for many.

“Mix it up! Use texts, emails, phone calls, video calls (e.g., FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp, to name a few),” Macgowan says.

“Regular connection is important but keep time boundaries. In this situation, people expect we are always available. Do not feel like you need to respond all the time.”

Are social networking site and video conferencing tools truly helping individuals feel connected and engaged or creating a sensation of greater separation?

“The ones that focus on things that do not heighten anxiety are helpful – for those who know how to access the sites and use the videoconferencing tools. For many people who didn;'t grow up with the tools, they can be a challenge. Now is the time to seek help from our kids or others with skills and walk them through how to connect.

"There are useful apps that can help decrease social isolation. There are game apps to use with others and ones that help reduce stress and anxiety.” Macgowan recommends Baptist Health South Florida, which is offering virtual exercise, meditation, and educational seminars via Zoom. [Type “virtual” in the search box.]

Are some activities considered better for keeping people engaged in their social lives and community while still staying at home?

While there are no research studies to answer this, Macgowan sugggests activating different parts of what we call “our microsystem” is very valuable.

“Microsystems include our family, friends, school, workplace, neighborhood and religious community. While in isolation it is best to engage as many of those as possible through remote access. If those are already maximized, consider going further to engage and influence exosystems and macroystems that include the laws, government, pollical systems and values and norms of our culture. The more parts of our social ecology we can engage and move into, the less isolated we will feel.”

What are some strategies for couples or families who may find staying home together – all day, every day – to be too much togetherness?

Macgowan reiterates that it is important to respect boundaries, space and sound. Play and work may need to be scheduled to avoid overlaps in who is using rooms at a given time and how much noise is generated. Using headsets or noise cancelling headphones can help facilitate the second part.

“Quiet time apart in the same house needs to be respected. Mobile phones and tablets now can access films and entire libraries. Time watching one’s own favorite show or book can provide the space needed for oneself. Having a bath alone can also provide the private time. In cramped quarters, noise-cancelling headsets can provide some tranquility, if not a source of enjoyable music.”

Macgowan emphasizes that is important to come together again, for meals or games.

If you feel like harming yourself or others call 911 immediately. If you are feeling emotions related to COVID19 that include sadness, depression and anxiety, and are not in immediate danger, contact any of the following resources:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
  • Disaster Distress Hotline - SAMHSA.
    • Toll-Free: 1 (800) 985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to talk with a counselor.
  • Veteran Crisis Line
    • Toll-Free: 1-800-273-8255, select option 1
    • Send a text message to 838255
    • Website:
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
    • helpline at 800-950-NAMI (6264), email or text "NAMI" to 741741 [NAMI also offers online support groups].
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline


Mark Macgowan, associate dean of academic affairs at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work and a licensed clinical social worker. Macgowan serves on one of Florida’s Federal Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, FL-5