A fear of leaving the house, keeping a distance from family, loss of employment or a loved one. Maintaining one's public health can be a challenge as New Jersey waits out the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus.

As experts brace for an uptick — how large, no one knows — in mental health issues among New Jerseyans, state lawmakers are attempting to make it easier for those currently dealing with anxiety, depression, severe mental illness, and other mental health disorders who may not be able to leave home for treatment.

"Anyone who has underlying psychological distress already — these are conditions that are ripe to aggravate or exacerbate those underlying problems," said Elissa Kozlov, a licensed clinical psychologist at Rutgers School of Public Health. "This is a period of intense stress for a lot of reasons."

Staying active and socially engaged is essential for individuals during this crisis, Kozlov said. That may seem easier said than done as leaders encourage social distancing and staying off the roads from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. But there are ways to "distract ourselves," Kozlov said, while at the same making sure not to treat this break from work or normal life as a "vacation."

"I really encourage people to find a new routine in this new version of life that we're living in," she said.

Kozlov encourages people to get outside as much as possible, if it's safe to do so. She's also a proponent of mindfulness meditation. Several mobile apps can teach you how to practice meditation, such as the free app Mindfulness Coach, which was developed by a team of psychologists for PTSD research.

"I think we should expect there to be an uptick in mental health issues as we enter this sort of uncharted period in our lives," Kozlov added.

Individuals with "more flexible coping skills" may be better off during the COVID-19 emergency, according to Carolyn Beauchamp, president of the Mental Health Association in New Jersey.

But developing an ongoing condition is certainly possible for those who experience serious loss.

"People want their lives back, so they're going to move in a direction to make that happen, unless there's a real big stumbling block," Beauchamp said.

Discussing individuals who've been dealing with mental health issues long before the coronavirus crisis, Beauchamp said there are concerns over how these people will get the help they need — medication and therapy, for example — should "lockdown or shelter-in-place" mandates be handed down.

"We want to be sure that people can get to their therapists, specifically people with severe mental illness," she said.

Among a number of coronavirus-related bills approved by state lawmakers, a measure signed by Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday allows any health care practitioner, for the duration of the public health emergency, to provide and bill for services using telemedicine and telehealth.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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