Checking in on Socially Distant Dads

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By News Team on June 18, 2020

This Father’s Day is a great time to check in on your dad to see how COVID-19 prevention guidelines are affecting him—especially if he lives alone.

By now we are all familiar with the essential guidelines for preventing the spread of the virus:

  • Stay home as much as possible
  • Practice social distancing by staying at least six feet from others, avoiding crowds and mass gatherings and limiting close contact with anyone not in your household
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, and with alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available
  • Wear a mask whenever you are in public places, such as a grocery store or gas station

In addition to the physical effects of COVID-19, these necessary social distancing practices can have complex psychological effects on people as well.

So in addition to taking preventive measures to protect ourselves and our loved ones from infection, it is also important to recognize and address the impact of the pandemic on our mental health.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stress during an infectious disease outbreak can cause:

  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones, your financial situation or job, or loss of support services you rely on
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Worsening of mental health conditions
  • Increased use of tobacco and/or alcohol and other substances

These symptoms can lead to depression, which often looks different for men than it does for women. And as we already know, men are less likely to seek support for both physical and emotional needs. Please consider using this list as a guide and check in with your father to help him identify and respond to the challenges he may be facing.

young mother with school age son smiling at handheld device while cooking
Ask solitary loved ones to share recipes and stories so you can cook and share meals "together."

If the emotional impact of the pandemic is interfering with his daily life, encourage him to see his primary care provider or a mental health professional. Video visits, MyChart communications and mail-order prescriptions are available so that he might receive the care he needs from the safety and comfort of his home.

If his stress or loneliness is manageable, start him off by helping him take care of his body:

  • Eat healthy meals “together” while remaining at least 6 feet apart
  • Exercise together when you can and encourage him to exercise regularly
  • Encourage him to get plenty of sleep

Then you might encourage him to do things that strengthen him emotionally:

  • Building a support network by sharing concerns with family members or friends
  • Taking breaks from watching, reading or listening to the news, including on social media
  • Staying informed by learning from fact-based, reliable sources such as Carilion Clinic’s coronavirus web page and the Virginia Department of Health and CDC websites

And of course, seeking support when needed from health care and mental health professionals.

We can expect that the social distancing guidelines that helped us “flatten the curve” will be in place for the foreseeable future, so keep this list handy to review again with your father and other loved ones from time to time.

And remember, you don’t have to wait until your daily life is affected by emotional distress for several days or longer; the earlier you seek outside support, the earlier you can feel better.
This article was reviewed by Robert Trestman, M.D., Ph.D., chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Carilion Clinic.

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