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Gov: Inslee: ‘It’s normal to feel abnormal’ during pandemic, fires

People walk on the Seattle waterfront, obscured by smoke from wildfires, on Sept. 11, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)

Between the COVID-19 pandemic, protests for change, wildfires, bad air quality, and the loss of loved ones, “it’s a lot to take in” for Washingtonians, Governor Jay Inslee said in a Thursday press conference. He recognized that many people in Washington state may be struggling with mental health issues, and encouraged anyone to seek help when they need it.

“Seeking help is not only OK, it’s great for us and our loved ones,” he said.

Everyone statewide has been feeling the impacts of the smoke and terrible air quality, which is like a “dark, oppressive” cloud over our heads, Inslee noted. It’s not only impacting physical health, but mental and emotional health as well.

“COVID has been with us for more than six months, we know that that is an impact on our mental health, and we also know that it is normal not to feel OK during a pandemic, much less fires,” he added.

Changes in feelings, behaviors, and thoughts are all common and normal responses during this time.

“It’s normal to feel abnormal,” Inslee said.

The governor also said it’s just as important to look for signs and symptoms of emotional distress in yourself and loved ones as it is for signs of physical ailments and injury. Recognize when you or someone in your life may need support, and know how to ask for and connect with available resources.

If you’re experiencing stress and would like someone to talk to anonymously, call Washington Listens at 833-681-0211. If you’re in crisis and need help now, call 866-4-CRISIS or text “Home” to 741741. You can also call the National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255.

The state has compiled these and other resources for mental and emotional well-being online here.

Washington Listens is here to help you through quarantine

On Thursday, the governor was joined by mental and behavioral health providers and a student mental health advocate, all of whom emphasized the importance of seeking help when in need. There are a number of community resources available in Washington state, many of which are also available in different languages.

“Mental health is something that we can manage,” said Yoon Joo Han, behavioral health director for the Asian Counseling and Referral Service. “… We believe that everyone who needs mental services should have access to mental health care without any barriers or stigma.”

“The best thing we can do is be aware of all the challenges we are experiencing and seek help,” she added.

Dr. Kira Mauseth, co-lead of the Behavioral Health Strike Team with the state Department of Health, warned that the next phase of the “disaster response cycle” in Washington is the disillusionment phase. With that on the horizon as well as colder, darker days, Mauseth recognized there are a lot of unknowns.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen with regard to a second potential wave of illness in the fall, but we … know we can get out ahead of the behavioral illnesses, so the depression and the sense of hopelessness, by promoting the active development of resilience,” she said.

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She outlined four ingredients for resilience: hope, connection, purpose, and flexibility or adaptability.  Read more here. Mauseth also said, fortunately, resilience is the most common outcome of disasters.

“These experiences are very normal,” she said. “Resilience is a common outcome, and we can build it intentionally.”

The good news, Inslee pointed out, is that “we can affect our mental health, we have the power to do that, and it’s very normal what we’re all experiencing right now.”

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