The novel coronavirus has been described as an “invisible enemy.” However, the impact from COVID-19 is all too visible: deaths, illness, unemployment.
“It’s real,” said counselor Josie White, a University of New Orleans alumna who specializes in crisis therapy. “When we went through Katrina, you knew the water was here. You returned to the city and saw the evidence, water lines and mold on the walls of our homes and businesses.
“But now there is something that we cannot see; it is affecting our lives in ways that we never imagined.”
The virus is transmitted through the air via a cough, sneeze or droplets on a surface, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
In Louisiana, more than 2,100 deaths are attributed to the novel coronavirus and more than 30,600 cases have been reported. Nationally, more than 1.2 million cases of coronavirus and over 75,800 deaths are attributed to the virus.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to government mandated stay-at-home orders, the closures of many businesses that has resulted in layoffs or reduced hours for employees, and increased stressors.
“People are becoming very ill, people are dying, family members and friends who we thought would never be affected by an illness like this—they are being affected and so we have to acknowledge that it is here,” White said. “That’s what I mean when I say it’s real.
“In order to increase our chances for survival we must adhere to the government guidelines. We are resilient and we can do this.”
Part of that survival, beyond following science-based guidelines for keeping physical distance and frequent handwashing, is allowing yourselves to be flexible to incorporate the various changes in your lives, White said.
“It’s a new normal; things may not go back to the way they were before,” she said. “Being flexible can reduce stress.”
White is the owner and CEO of JW's Creative Solutions, a New Orleans-based counseling and consulting firm that services individuals as well as companies. She earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in counseling from UNO. She also holds a master’s degree in public health from Texas Southern University and a doctorate in behavioral health from Arizona State University.
White is a nationally certified counselor, licensed professional counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist. She started her own company in 2006.
While pursuing her undergraduate degree at UNO, White volunteered with the New Orleans Police Department’s crisis unit where she obtained valuable training and experience.
“Crisis (counseling) has always been something I’ve loved for years,” White said. “I worked for the police department in the crisis unit so we were exposed to a lot of different situations.”
UNO’s counseling program gave White the foundation for her current work, she said.
“Several of my UNO professors were instrumental in preparing me for my career. However, Dr. (Zarus) Watson really stands out because of his commitment to community and his experience serving as a consultant to various community-based organizations and businesses,” White said. “He was definitely one of my professors who motivated me to think outside of the box.”
The best part of her job, White said, is being able to assist clients through empowerment, collaboration and effective communication.
“Sometimes you just need to know that there is someone there who is willing and able to listen to you without judgment,” White said.
For many, the uncertain nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has added additional stress, such as parents suddenly having to create and schedule at-home learning routines because schools are closed.
“Parents are managing their jobs on top of the uncertainty of what tomorrow is going to bring. Parents have expressed that now that their kids are home, they are teacher, best friend, principal, and the cafeteria attendant,” White said.
In order to “manage those things that overwhelm you,” first acknowledge the issues and then create a plan to manage those issues affecting you, White said.
“We can’t deny that COVID-19 is affecting our communities. However, I need a plan to manage what is in my control,” White said. “What’s the possibility that I might lose my job or my hours may be reduced? What is my plan?”
Other mental health tips are to stay socially connected while acknowledging physical distancing and engage in self-care activities, White said.
“We have to breathe,” White said. “Many times we are moving around engaging in various activities, but we are holding our breath. Remember to breathe and know that it is OK to take a ‘time out.’”