Mental Health During COVID-19

Muguette Guenneguez is the executive director of NAMI Seattle, an affiliate of National Alliance on Mental Illness. Muguette sat down with us to talk about mental health in the time of COVID-19 and her collaboration with the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict.

“There are no words to describe how impacted our communities have been by this crisis, from the youngest people to the oldest people,” Muguette said. “What is going to be normal? You don’t know. This uncertainty is taking a toll on everyone, and we want to be there for the community to offer support. We have trainings, workshops that we have available online for people and businesses for them to offer support to their staff, their colleagues.”

Muguette works to support her community every day, designing next steps and coordinating efforts to connect people with resources. Later this month, she will join the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict for their Community Tea series to promote ways individuals can take care of themselves during this crisis.

“I don’t have all the answers, but I think we need to shield our children from some of the information out there – maybe we need to shield ourselves from some of the information out there too,” Muguette said. “Take ten minutes to catch up on the news, and then walk away. Eat balanced diets; refrain from drinking too much. Connect with friends and family.”

Muguette also encourages families to make the most of this time together.

“Some families enjoy cooking together, some families enjoy playing board games together, some families enjoy watching movies together. Whatever it is, do it together,” Muguette said. “I would also say that it’s important to have those conversations with parents, friends, people you cannot see. It’s important to keep those relationships going. It’s also important to do the things that centered you before – whether it was meditation, whether it was praying – continue doing it within the confine of your home, if possible. Myself, I love to garden. Anytime I have a free moment, I rush to the garden because this is where I love to be. People have to do what’s best for them.”

NAMI was started in 1979 by Eleanor Owen. Today, 41 years later, it is an association with more than 800 affiliates. NAMI Seattle works in three focused areas: educating communities, offering support to those dealing with mental illness, and advocacy.

“Advocacy is quite important because in raising awareness and supporting people, we need our elected officials and the community at large to know how important it is to support all community members who are dealing with mental illness,” Muguette said. “People with mental illness can lead, actually do lead, very successful and fulfilling lives, but they need the support of the community for that to happen.”

NAMI Seattle has a variety of support groups that meet throughout the Seattle area. There are peer-to-peer groups; support groups for family members; and groups that highlight the voices, stories, and lived experiences of those who have mental illnesses.

“That people are talking about these issues, that might be the silver lining of this pandemic,” Muguette said. “They’re not necessarily saying the words ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety,’ but you can tell that this has affected them in a very emotional way. This is not the way we would have hoped to start the conversation, but we will take it from there.”