"Separate Together": Staying Sane During Quarantine

Mar 20, 2020

Closed sign for the Albany County Library.
Credit Erin Jones

As people follow recommendations to stay home in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, some folks are left totally alone. That can be disruptive to mental health—especially in a state with one of the leading suicide rates.

"Well, I first got the adolescent blues I think that a lot of people get in middle school," said Laramie local Jason Stenar Clark on the phone. He was at home, listening to Beyoncé.

He said as he got older, his depression got worse. And by the time he was about thirty, Stenar Clark was diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder with psychotic features.

"I contemplated suicide a great deal in 2011. And then attempted, I suppose, about five years later."

But he hasn't considered suicide since. That's in large part because of things like medication, counseling, getting plenty of sleep…and his routines.

"Having coffee in the morning in downtown Laramie. I know a lot of retirees, veterans, who aren't in the workplace at say 8, 9, 10 a.m.," Stenar Clark said. "Then after that I eat at the Laramie Soup Kitchen, which is a wonderful place, open to the whole community."

Stenar Clark also likes to stop by the shops and hear the gossip from local business owners.

"You know, the new business that opened, or shut down. Someone retired, someone moved. Someone passed away. Someone got married, someone had babies."

And he reads a lot. "I guess I left that out, the public library one. It's, like, my secret."

He goes there at least once a week. Or he did, until it closed to the public. Coffee shops and other local businesses have closed, too. The Laramie Soup Kitchen has transitioned to to-go meals. And while those measures keep people physically safe from the coronavirus, social isolation and disruption to routine could have big impacts on mental health.

"Isolation is a funny thing because as human beings we crave to be social and emotionally connected to other human beings," said Nikki Rossetter. She's a therapist. "So it is quite the opposite of what we have always thought in an educated world to be what's healthy for us."

And Rossetter said she's seeing heightened anxiety and depression among her patients.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Wyoming has the second-highest rate of suicide in the United States. And this region—the Mountain West—has the highest rate of suicide.

Lindsay Martin is the Injury and Violence Prevention Program Manager at the Wyoming Department of Health. She said most of her job is devoted to suicide prevention. And Martin is concerned about two groups in particular: "Middle-aged men. And the other population with the highest rate are our senior citizens."

But Martin says there are simple things we can do to take care of the most vulnerable among us.

"I think a lot of it is being better neighbors, taking care of the people in your community, reaching out to them. Especially right now, supporting seniors. Just trying to bring those people who are more isolated in our communities, and make them feel seen, and heard, and a part of the community."

Nikki Rossetter—the therapist—says if you know someone who struggles with depression or anxiety, now is the time to call them for a friendly chat.

Even if you aren't alone, these are uncertain times. Rossetter suggests new structures, like a walk or yoga every morning at ten a.m. Making tea. Journaling.

And, once you've finished reading this story… "I would say avoid excessive exposure to media, media coverage," said Rossetter. "Connect more through the internet. You could watch Netflix at the same time as your friends. If somebody pauses it to go the bathroom, everybody pauses, and you could have a side chat."

She said to ensure basic needs, like sleep. Regular healthy meals. Limiting caffeine. Breaks for mindfulness or meditation. Things we might not ordinarily have time for. And if you want some counseling, there's telemental health. That's where you talk to a therapist through a secure video chat software. "Surf the internet, find out who you want to see, read their profiles," said Rossetter.

Meanwhile, Jason Stenar Clark says all this coronavirus stuff is reminding him of the poet John Donne. You know, "no man is an island."

"I think the thing that heartens me most is, we're all this at the same time together, just so quickly," said Stenar Clark. "That even though we're separate from one another, we're still separate together."

At the end of our phone call, instead of goodbye, he said, "Breathe easy."

Hope you do the same.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Erin Jones, at ejones29@uwyo.edu.