Home Health Tips Community Amid Coronavirus: Mental Health Tips for Writers – PEN America

Community Amid Coronavirus: Mental Health Tips for Writers – PEN America

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This week, as many of our members work to settle into new realities, I asked Lyn Morris, LMFT, senior vice president of clinical operations at Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, what tips and resources writers and other creative professionals, particularly those struggling with their mental health, should consider. Morris oversees 550 clinical staff and 250 volunteers in Didi Hirsch’s clinical divisions, which include adult, child, and family; residential; substance use, and the Suicide Prevention Center.


PEN America is an organization for writers and their allies. What unique concerns do you imagine writers facing in the weeks and months to come?
Writers who have home offices may find it’s harder to stay focused on work while other family members are around and seeking their attention. And they may be extra distracted by worries about their financial security during these uncertain times. But they should also make time to connect with those they live with, even if it means reducing writing times, as everyone is hurting in some way. Doing fun things with family members makes being cooped up together easier and a little less lonely for everyone.

What tips do you have for writers working from home who struggle with mental health, including anxiety and depression?
Writers who work from home, especially those who already struggle with anxiety or depression, need to prioritize their own health by eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep. They should limit their news consumption to a couple of times a day and stay in touch with friends, neighbors, and loved ones by phone, text, email, and virtual meetings. But they also need to ask family members to respect their writing routines so they can continue to be productive—which also helps fend off depression and anxiety.


“We all need to feel connected, especially during these difficult times, and writers have a vital role to play in fostering a sense of community. By sharing stories, writers help others feel less alone.”


Writing connects people. What positive role can creativity play during difficult times?
Creative self-expression is good for the mental health of writers and their audiences. We all need to feel connected, especially during these difficult times, and writers have a vital role to play in fostering a sense of community. By sharing stories, writers help others feel less alone.

Creative people often feel a kind of responsibility to extend themselves in service during difficult times. What self-care tips do you have for writers who might feel personally overwhelmed by the breadth of the COVID-19 crisis?
Writing can be a public service as much as sewing face masks or bringing groceries to elderly neighbors. But writers need to practice self-care. If they are overwhelmed, they should take a break. Beating yourself up for not being creative during these stressful times is not a good use of your energy or time. Taking care of your physical and mental health is essential for creativity.


“Beating yourself up for not being creative during these stressful times is not a good use of your energy or time. Taking care of your physical and mental health is essential for creativity.”


What can editors and supervisors do to help people working from home manage concerns about not meeting professional expectations?
Writers working from home should communicate their concerns and may need some time to adjust to new schedules and routines. Everyone can benefit from the recognition that we are living in extraordinary times, and we all need to extend extra compassion and understanding to our colleagues, neighbors, acquaintances, and friends.

What are some things that writers in need of de-stressing can do, while being mindful of the need for social distance?
Here’s a mental health care package from the staff at Didi Hirsch:

What are some resources that writers in crisis should be aware of?
If you or someone you know is in crisis or feeling suicidal, here are three 24/7 resources for immediate help and support:


About Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services

Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services transforms lives by providing mental health, substance use, and suicide prevention services in communities where poverty or stigma limits access to care. From 10 centers and more than 120 schools throughout Los Angeles and Orange Counties, Didi Hirsch helped nearly 160,000 children and adults nationwide in 2019. Didi Hirsch operates outpatient centers and three residential facilities, including Via Avanta, one of the first programs in the nation that allows women struggling with mental illness and substance use to live with their children while in treatment. Didi Hirsch’s Suicide Prevention Center is the nation’s first and a global resource for healing and hope. It provides crisis counseling for people contemplating suicide and for their friends and relatives; training and education for students, teachers, first responders, mental health professionals, and others; and therapy and support groups for people who have survived an attempt or are bereaved by a loss. Learn more at www.didihirsch.org.

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