15 year-old Jo’Vianni Smith was found dead in her home due to suicide and we all had better take notice. Now.

“Jo,” a sophomore at Bear Creek High School in Stockton, California, was a “bubbly, loving” girl according to her mother, a “stellar student athlete” who her coach described as “a bright star with a great personality, a huge heart with a bright future.” Suicide? Her mother and coach place the cause of her death on the “pressure and stress of coping with self-isolation.” 

The highly admired medical journal, The Lancet, prophetically steered attention in February to this when they noted, “The challenges and stress they [healthcare workers] experience could trigger common mental disorders, including anxiety and depressive disorders, and posttraumatic stress disorder, which in turn could result in hazards that exceed the consequences of the 2019-nCoV epidemic itself.”  Indeed, dozens of studies point to a connection between emotional despair and epidemics that include loss of human life, isolation and financial strain such as we see in COVID19. One psychologist at Yale University, Sarah Lowe, Ph.D., describes what we are seeing as a “slow-motion disaster,” referring to the intensifying and mounting mental health crisis, one victim of which is 15 year-old Jo’Vianni. The World Health Organization tells us that as of January, 2020, 264 million people of all ages suffered with depression around the world. Calls are flooding telehealth lines for help.

We are witnessing an escalating, strengthening, swelling mental illness pandemic, one that may well exceed the scale of COVID19, according to The Lancet. We can prevent this by applying what we’ve learned from how to successfully mitigate the spread of COVID19. 

Here’s how:

  1. Mind-washing

Emotional education for all will surely help stem the flow of self-disturbing ruminations. Recognizing that you can bathe your mind in harmful or beneficial thinking, empowers you to put the right detergent into your mind. Continuously working at recognizing and then ridding your mind of hopelessness will fuel your ability to feel reasonably happy instead of unreasonably despairing. Thinking “I’ve had enough,” Never “give up”? Wash those thoughts with “More, please.” Ever see a diamond get polished? It takes grinding friction, noise, water and dust. Without it, the diamond doesn’t change, improve and sparkle. Neither will you.

  • Erroneous belief distancing

Replacing rigid and extreme thinking with unconditional self, other and life acceptance will help ease the tension. This means you’d be wise to a) dispute demanding thoughts and replace them with preferences, b) eliminate thoughts that life now is awful and instead wash in thoughts that life is simply not to your liking, c) distance yourself from self-depreciation and low frustration tolerance, recognizing that you can bear far more than life is putting you to the test to shoulder.  If you predict a horrible, terrible, awful outcome to this situation, you’ll next start giving yourself excuses that’ll keep you stuck. Unstuck yourself through the lens of curiosity. Think, “How can I grow from this?”

  • Masking harmful words

We would be wise to choose words we use in describing our current situation in ways that help us create safety and emotional peace. What you say about yourself and your circumstances will have far greater impact on your mindset and wellbeing than you might realize. We are not at “war,” “doing battle,” “stuck at home.” Maybe you’re “challenged,” “sheltering-in-place,” with words of war bringing more hostility and coldness into your life. War metaphors breed fear. Why not put those words behind your mask or into your mind-washing and bleach them out? We are facing a global public health emergency, not war.

  • Sterilizing perspective

We can reframe our view of this current situation to gain a better view of what this time is doing FOR us, not TO us, what we “get to do,” not “have to do,” during sheltering-at-home. Go to bed this evening and spend a bit of time reviewing what went right today. Tomorrow morning wake up and give some thought to what might go right. Think about how you are growing, not simply going, through this unusual life opportunity. There is no such thing as “adversity.” That’s the right mindset to have! Every stumbling block is truly a stepping-stone when you see life through a healthy, realistic lens.

  • Stocking up on rolls of gratitude

Let’s find a way to be thankful for what we have, what’s going right, what beauty we see in our lives. This is the shortest way I’m aware of to derive the most potent dose of preventing a mental health crisis flaming alongside of COVID19. Write about what you are grateful for during this time. A home in which to find shelter? Internet to use to stay in contact with others? Losing a job, financial strain, fear of becoming homeless are not things one feels grateful for. But having the strength, the confidence to rebuild, the assistance from others, those are gifts for which to feel grateful. Gratitude will unshackle you from toxic emotions and will have lasting effects on your brain, though its benefits will take time. Get started now.