Officials Stress Importance of Mental Health in Pandemic

May 20, 2020, 5:47 p.m. ·

Sheri Dawson, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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Gov. Pete Ricketts is stressing the need for people to take care of their mental health during the coronavirus pandemic.

In his daily news conference discussing the state’s effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Ricketts often picks one theme to highlight. Wednesday, it was mental health.

“Right now with this pandemic, we’ve all been feeling the impacts of this. In fact, Americans are saying in surveys that they feel like their mental health is being impacted by the isolation and all the other stress that goes along with this pandemic. And so we want to make sure we’re taking care of our mental health just like we’re taking care of our physical health,” Ricketts said.

Sheri Dawson of the Department of Health and Human Services had a challenge for people:

“The challenge today is to take 15 minutes today and do 15 minutes ‘for me’. Alright? Do some self-care. Whatever that activity is – music, relaxation, meditation, prayer, walks – it could be anything that is really helpful to your stress. And 15 minutes a day – you will be surprised what that will really do for your overall health,” Dawson said.

Dawson urged people to be on the lookout for signs that friends and family might be having problems – signs like withdrawal, agitation, chances in activity or personality, or hopelessness, and open up a conversation.

“If you notice those things in a loved one or friend, begin the conversation by just asking – you know, I’ve noticed that you don’t seem yourself or you’re not as talkative, and kind of point out what’s changed, and open that up for a conversation about ‘How are you feeling?’” she said.

Dawson said if the problems are serious enough, the person should be encouraged to seek help from a professional. Help is also available by calling the family helpline at 1-888-866-8660.

The discussion of mental health came four days after Nebraska U.S. Senator Ben Sasse made some widely-criticized remarks about psychologists in a video played as part of Fremont High School’s online graduation ceremony.

In his remarks, Sasse joked that “a lot of us spend a lot of our lives trying to forget as much about high school as we possibly can.”

“And if fact there are a whole lot of people who make a whole lot of money by just trying to help other people forget high school. They’re called psychologists. In fact, 95 percent of all gainfully employed psychologists – and I’m serious, there are dozens of them that are gainfully employed -- their job is really just to help people forget high school,” Sasse said.

“And the other five percent? They just research hamsters who get lost in mazes, which come to think of it, is a lot like high school, and that’s why we want to forget it. Those hamsters also need their own psychologists now. Here’s what I’m trying to say: there will always be money to be made in psychology. No – that’s a joke. Do not – if you’re headed to college -- do not major in psychology. That part’s not a joke,” Sasse continued.

Given his emphasis on mental health, Ricketts was asked his reaction to Sasse’s remarks.

“I think Sen. Sasse was trying to be funny when he was doing his speech. That’s the way I took it,” he said.

Ricketts was also asked about criticism of his decision to let his waiver of a law requiring court hearings on evictions to take place within 14 days expire. Nebraska Appleseed, a group that advocates for low income people, has suggested the state could use money it’s getting from the federal government to set up a rental assistance fund. Ricketts said he thinks federal aid to individuals is kicking in, so the state waiver is no longer necessary.

“Since this was specifically focused on people who have been impacted by coronavirus and that pandemic unemployment of $600 a week is also specifically around coronavirus-impacted people we felt like those two things kind of went together so there really isn’t a need to do anything else beyond that,” he said.