It’s hard to believe we’ve been battling coronavirus in Nebraska for over two months now.

I applaud Nebraskans for working together and successfully slowing the spread of the virus. The impact of the virus has been much less severe here than in many other states.

That’s due in part to Nebraskans staying informed, following the rules and practicing good hygiene and physical distancing.

As we have worked to mitigate the impact of the virus, communities have been working to overcome a variety of challenges. People have fallen ill or experienced loss of employment.

Parents have taken on new roles as homeschool teachers, while also juggling work responsibilities.

Job creators and their teams have had to find new ways to serve their customers. Brides have needed to postpone their wedding days.

Senior citizens in nursing homes have had to stay physically distanced from loved ones. Birthday parties and graduation ceremonies have been delayed or scaled back.

These are just some of the ways life has changed.

For many of us, changing these routines and rules can be very stressful and difficult.

As we continue to fight coronavirus, it’s important for us to pay attention to our well-being and the well-being of our family, friends and neighbors.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month. As such, it’s a fitting time to talk about mental wellness.

Mental illness often begins at a young age. Half of mental health challenges may start as early as age 14, and 75% begin by age 24.

The pandemic has put many under extra pressure. Data shows that Americans are feeling the strain of social isolation and the many disruptions caused by the virus.

Like our physical health, we ought to treat mental health very seriously. Everyone can take proactive steps to prevent illness, vigilantly watch for symptoms, and seek immediate treatment when we — or our loved ones —show signs of being unwell.

There are a number of practical ways to invest in your mental well-being.

Exercise regularly, eat healthy foods and avoid drinking and smoking.

Stay connected by reaching out to friends and family by phone or through video calls. Unplug from the news and make time to laugh and have fun.

Get plenty of sleep. It’s amazing what good rest can do to restore a healthy outlook on life.

These are simple things to do, but they’re tremendously important. We need to combat the mental dangers of coronavirus just as rigorously as its physical threat.

Throughout the month of May, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is educating Nebraskans to identify signs of mental distress. There are five indicators to watch for.

1. Withdrawal: A change of behavior in how someone interacts with others.

2. Agitation: A change in mood, such as increased anger or irritability.

3. Hopelessness: Feelings of being trapped and unable to get out of what someone is going through.

4. Changing routine: A change in someone’s daily habits, such as wanting to sleep all day.

5. Changing personality: Someone seems joyless or unable to experience life as usual.

If you notice these signs in a friend or family member, or see them in yourself, take immediate action.

Mental health issues are treatable, and with the right help people can recover. State and national hotlines are available to provide assistance.

· The Nebraska Family Helpline: 1-888-866-8660

· The Nebraska Rural Response Hotline: 1-800-464-0258

· The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Distress Hotline: 1-800-985-5990

· The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

The coronavirus has disproportionately affected elderly Nebraskans, especially those living in long-term care facilities.

With physical visitations limited at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, I encourage Nebraskans to find ways to express love and care to our senior citizens.

Make a drawing or homemade card with your child, and send it to the nursing home in your community. Inquire if there are options to connect virtually by video.

Call to say hi and sing a song. A list of long-term care facilities in Nebraska is available by clicking here. I invite you to contact the facility nearest you for ideas on how to brighten the day of the residents there.

As the end of May approaches, we’re announcing changes to our directed health measures, and new guidance for activities.

You can stay up to date by regularly visiting www.Governor.Nebraska.gov and subscribing to the coronavirus updates. You can also visit dhhs.ne.gov/coronavirus for more information.

As we work together to beat the virus, let’s also laugh together, pray together, and keep in close contact. We’re mentally strongest when we’re most connected.

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