The Effects of Lockdowns on Our Mental Health
In the wake of the recent mass violence in California, the importance of preparedness and safety is pushed to the forefront of our minds. Yet, experiencing an actual ‘lockdown’ order also presents a very real risk for emotional distress among not only those under the order, but for their loved ones outside of the targeted areas as well.
Commonly used in jails or prisons to describe situations in which inmates are restricted to their cells, the word ‘lockdown’ has more recently become an all-too-familiar phrase in relation to the many tragic shootings in our schools, colleges, workplaces and other public facilities.
While most often these measures are the result of false threats or threats that are contained quickly and safely by emergency responders, regardless of the duration or nature of the lockdown, create highly stressful situations and even trigger overwhelming feelings of anxiety and fear among those affected. Children and youth are particularly vulnerable to distress during a lockdown, as well as their parents/caregivers if news has emerged of a lockdown during school hours.
Tips for Coping
Risk for emotional distress or traumatic exposure increases with the duration of the orders and nature/severity of the event – use these tips to help you and your family cope before, during and after a lockdown situation arises:
1. Practice preparedness
Visit Ready.gov for comprehensive resources to help you prepare your family.
Preparedness Tip: Parents and caregivers should be sensitive to potential distress triggers that may arise for kids (and adults) during these practice sessions.
2. Follow instructions/orders from authorities
When orders are issued for lockdowns or sheltering in place, no matter where you are follow them and wait for updates, further instructions, or intercom announcements that the orders have been lifted before leaving the location.
3. Only monitor trusted resources
For loved ones looking for news and information, when communications are restricted (or ill-advised for safety reasons), look for updates only from trusted sources, including on social media.
Preparedness Tip: Plan ahead of time to tune in to those sources for when you need to hear what’s going on.
4. Maintain normal routines to extent possible
Preparedness Tip: Create a family communications plan in order to make sure you have all of your loved ones contact information before an emergency, and also get contact information of your neighbors and neighbors’ loved ones if they are frail or have limited mobility.
5. Monitor warning signs for distress in the days/weeks following the event
Check in with kids and teens, and, while you shouldn’t pressure them to talk about their experience, let them know you are here for them if they need to talk.
6. Ask for help if signs of distress emerge, especially if they don’t diminish days/weeks or re-emerge if there are triggering events
If symptoms of distress don’t seem to be going away in the weeks following the event, appear to be getting worse, or if you think you or someone you care about may be experiencing depression, anxiety, substance abuse or suicidal thoughts- get help right away. Speak to your healthcare provider, a counselor at your child’s school, or other mental health professional.
And, remember that the Disaster Distress Helpline is always available with free and confidential 24/7 emotional support. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746 (Spanish-speakers can text “Hablanos” to 66746) and you will be connected with a trained, caring crisis counselor that will listen to what’s on your mind.