An Expert’s Reminders for Mental Health

A person with a Pitt backpack and a winter hat walks away from the camera on a snowy campusProfessor of Psychiatry, Epidemiology and Psychology Rebecca Thurston has seen an increase in her clinical case load recently.

“These are very stressful times for so many of us. Whether it be social isolation, financial hardship, health challenges (including COVID) or losses, many are suffering in many ways,” said Thurston, who is the Pittsburgh Foundation Chair in Women’s Health and Dementia and also director of Pitt’s Women’s Behavioral Health Laboratory in the School of Medicine. “These stressors can make dealing with everyday stressors harder. Many people are feeling burnt out, maxed out and stressed.”

Her advice for people facing mental health challenges depends on the severity of symptoms, and she emphasized that there is no substitute for professional mental health care for people considering self-harm or experiencing panic attacks, persistent sleeplessness or suicidal thoughts.

A woman in a dark gray shirt“For severe symptoms, seek help. Reach out to mental health providers—whether psychologists, psychiatrists or other clinicians. If you don’t know where to start, talk to your primary care provider, or ask friends and family for their recommendations,” she said.

For those with milder—but still stressful—problems such as trouble concentrating, fatigue or loneliness, Thurston offered several reminders, including getting outside every day, keeping regular sleep and wake schedules and exercising regularly.

“These general practices are so important to helping us keep a sense of normality and routine,” she said, and further encouraged people to reach out to loved ones—electronically or via phone—to fight isolation.

Thurston also advises limiting news and media intake, which can seem overwhelming or induce anxiety, as well as being mindful and limiting substance use, including alcohol. “Even if it feels good in the short term, many substances can make depression and anxiety worse in the long term,” she said.

“Are there things that bring you joy? Do those things. Meditate—it’s a great way to help you become aware of what’s going on in your head,” she added. “And practice kindness—especially towards yourself. Talk to yourself as you would your best friend. These are extraordinarily stressful times, and we all deserve a lot of patience and kindness to get through this.”

Students experiencing mental health difficulties can contact the University Counseling Center for care, support and resources. Faculty and staff can contact Life Solutions for personalized care services, 24-hour support, online resources and more.

Expert’s checklist for fostering mental health

  • Get outside every day
  • Keep a consistent sleep and wake schedule
  • Exercise regularly
  • Reach out to loved ones electronically or by phone
  • Meditate
  • Limit use of substances, including alcohol
  • Limit news and media intake
  • Be kind to yourself