Mind Your Mental Health - People with pre-existing mental health conditions
Coping with stressful mental health conditions has become an even greater challenge due to all the changes in our living conditions. Many activities that would normally have a stabilising effect may no longer be possible for one reason or another – our contact with others is limited, our perspectives have changes, and we may be experiencing additional pressure on top of everything. It may be the case that symptoms of yours are reappearing or are heightened, or you may be dealing with something altogether new. Those suffering pre-existing mental health conditions are being called upon to muster an incredible amount of patience and strength, and are using what resources and coping mechanisms remain with courage and confidence. It is completely understandable that this is not always easy.
Giving your day structure and maintaining that structure can help you get through the day. Try to keep as active as possible, and keep in touch with other people. When you’re facing difficult situations, having a person you trust to rely on can help you navigate things. Try not to consume alcohol or other substances. Look for other options to calm yourself down. Get professional help if you’re experiencing a serious mental health crisis.
The links below offer information and tips:
- Follow the German Society for Psychology’s (DGP) guidelines, available here: https://psychologische-coronahilfe.de/hilfen-fuer-erwachsene (German only). Also have a look at the Psychenet (mental health network) website (https://www.psychenet.de/en; some information available in English). Aktionsbündnis Seelische Gesundheit (Action Mental Health) has useful information and tips (https://www.seelischegesundheit.net; German only).
- This website is focused primarily on young people: https://deinkopfvollerfragen.de (German only).
Professional help and advice is also available
- If you’re dealing with a mental health crisis, try contacting social psychiatric services, which are based in your local health authority, as well as local psychosocial contact and counselling centres or outpatient psychiatric clinics. You can find contact details online or in your local telephone book.
- If you suspect that you need longer-term support in the form of outpatient or inpatient psychotherapy, your first point of contact would be your GP, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Use the Kassenärztliche Bundesvereinigung’s (German National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians) physician search to search for specific doctors and psychotherapists that meet certain criteria (e.g. can speak a foreign language): https://www.kbv.de/html/arztsuche.php (German only). You could also contact outpatient psychotherapy clinics based in universities. Outpatient psychotherapy may be provided by phone or video call during the coronavirus pandemic on the basis of a special regulation by the German National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians and the German National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Funds (Spitzenverband der gesetzlichen Krankenkassen).
In the event of an acute mental health crisis or emergency requiring immediate assistance, the following can help:
- The medical on-call service run by the German National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians can be reached nationwide outside normal surgery hours (e.g. nights, weekends and public holidays) at 116117. More information is available here: https://www.kbv.de/html/aerztlicher_bereitschaftsdienst.php (German only).
- If immediate help is required, you can attend a psychiatric hospital. Addresses and contact details are available through the medical on-call service (116 117).
- The German Federal Centre for Health Education’s (BZgA) telephone counselling service also provides free, anonymous advice at 08002322783.
- The Info-Telefon Depression informational helpline is available for free by calling 0800 33 44 533; hours: Mon, Tues, Thurs – 13:00 to 17:00; Weds and Fri – 08:30 to 12:30, website: www.deutsche-depressionshilfe.de (German only).
- The SeeleFon für Flüchtlinge telephone service for refugees is available in German, English, French and Arabic, and is aimed at refugees or their relatives looking for information about specific mental health treatment options in Germany. The service is available Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10:00 to 12:00 and 14:00 to 15:00. Tel: +49 (0)228 71002425, website: https://www.bapk.de/en/offers/support-via-telephone-and-email-consultancy.html.
In the event of an acute or potentially even life-threatening emergency, for example an acute risk of suicide, please dial the number for the emergency services at 112. You should also call 112 if the situation is unclear, but could be life threatening.
Manage uncertainty: Avoid becoming overly preoccupied by unsettling news about the coronavirus pandemic. Try to reduce your consumption of news media to limited periods once or twice a day. Be sure you’re relying on absolutely reliable, legitimate sources of information.
- The Deutsche Angst-Hilfe organisation provides support for dealing with anxiety and runs an anxiety-free news service called angstfrei.news (link to: https://www.angstselbsthilfe.de/angstfrei-news; German only). It serves as a guide to help you sift through the overload of coronavirus information coming in through online media and social networks. Anxiety-free news is provided daily from 8:00 to 20:00.
- Do your best to assess risks as objectively as possible. The German Society for Psychology (DGP) website (German only) offers a guide to assessing risk (https://psychologische-coronahilfe.de/beitrag/risiken-verstehen).
Overcome anxiety, fear and panic: For many people, the coronavirus pandemic is associated with worry and uncertainty. This may cause those with pre-existing mental health conditions, such as those suffering from an anxiety disorder, to experience a resurgence in or worsening of cycles of long-lasting worry or anxiety and panic attacks.
- The German Society for Psychology (DGP) website (German only): www.psychologische-coronahilfe.de offers guides for dealing with anxiety about becoming infected with the coronavirus and with pronounced health anxieties (https://psychologische-coronahilfe.de/beitrag/vor-lauter-sorgen-spuere-ich-bei-mir-selbst-schon-corona-symptome; German only).
- The psychenet mental health network website (https://www.psychenet.de/en; some information available in English) provides information about anxiety disorders, as well as self-tests and help with making treatment decisions.
- Information on self-help options for anxiety disorders, such as self-help groups or online counselling, is available on the Deutsche Angsthilfe website (https://www.angstselbsthilfe.de; German only).
- Specific techniques for managing feelings of worry and anxiety are available through online training services like get.calm and move.on, which is currently being offered for free as part of an evaluation study by Leuphana University of Lüneburg in cooperation with the German Federal Centre for Health Education (BZgA) and health association GKV-Bündnis für Gesundheit (https://getcalm-moveon.de; German only).
Overcome depression: Many people will experience periods of depressed mood at some point during their lives, with some even suffering a depressive illness. Symptoms like sadness, lethargy and hopelessness may return or be exacerbated during the coronavirus pandemic. Resources for managing the current challenges and methods for dealing with symptoms of depression are often only available to a limited extent at the moment. Here are a few helpful bits of information:
- The Deutsche Depressionshilfe organisation runs the Info-Telefon Depression informational helpline, which provides free information about depression and treatment options (tel: 0800 3344533; Mon, Tues, Thurs 13:00 to 17:00; Weds and Fri 8:30 to 12:30).
- The German Society for Psychology (DGP) website (German only) offers information on dealing with depressive thoughts.
- Helpful techniques for dealing with depression are provided as part of a short, therapeutic behavioural programme run by the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry (link to https://www.psych.mpg.de/interventionsprogramm; this page is currently available in German only).
- Free, anonymous help with depression is available through an online programme called moodgym (German only). Deutsche Depressionshilfe also runs the iFightDepression Tool (link to https://www.deutsche-depressionshilfe.de/unsere-angebote/fuer-betroffene-und-angehoerige/ifightdepression-tool; German only), which is also available for free during the coronavirus pandemic.
- It can also help to talk with others going through similar things. Deutsche Depressionshilfe https://www.deutsche-depressionshilfe.de/depression-infos-und-hilfe/wo-finde-ich-hilfe; German only) has information on how you can get in touch with other depression sufferers. The German Federal Association of Families of People with Mental Illness (BApK) (https://www.bapk.de/angebote/selbsthilfenetz-psychiatrie/suche.html; search page available in German only) also lets you search directly for self-help groups.
Coping with obsessive-compulsive disorder: If you already have anxiety about becoming infected with an illness or about contamination, living through a pandemic with a real risk of infection can be particularly difficult, and can make it hard to deal with washing or cleaning rituals. Try to distance yourself from these intrusive thoughts, and remind yourself that these scary thoughts are just thoughts, and that they are a symptom of your compulsion. Don’t neglect your exposure exercises. Trust the hygiene recommendations offered by the experts ( https://www.infektionsschutz.de/hygienetipps.html; German only).
Seek out social support among family and friends. You might also try discussing things in self-help groups and forums for others affected. The Deutsche Gesellschaft Zwangserkrankungen (German Association of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders) offers some helpful information on its website www.zwaenge.de (German only).
Avoid alcohol and drugs: Find helpful ways to manage stressful feelings and thoughts. Distract yourself, share your worries with people you trust and take good care of yourself every day.
- The German Society for Psychology (DGP) offers some helpful ideas for managing mental health issues throughout the coronavirus pandemic without addictive substances: https://psychologische-coronahilfe.de/beitrag/informationen-zum-missbrauch-von-alkohol-und-drogen (German only).
- The German Federal Centre for Health Education (BZgA) offers information and advice (https://www.drogenbeauftragte.de/service/beratungsangebote/; German only) and can help you find a counselling service near you (https://www.bzga.de/service/beratungsstellen/suchtprobleme/; page available in German only).
- You could also try the BZgA’s addiction prevention hotline: https://www.bzga.de/service/infotelefone/suchtvorbeugung/ (website in German only) or the Sucht- und Drogen-Hotline (Addiction and Drugs Hotline): https://www.bzga.de/service/infotelefone/sucht-drogen-hotline (page available in German only).
- The Blue Cross website also has some useful information (https://www.blaues-kreuz.de/de/wege-aus-der-sucht; German only), and provides specific information in the context of the coronavirus pandemic (https://www.blaues-kreuz.de/de/hinweise-zur-corona-pandemie; German only).