Mental health in times of a PANDEMIC

Mental health in times of a PANDEMIC

Author: Sushmita Singh

A public health crisis like Coronavirus Pandemic, can take a mental toll on people, especially those already struggling with anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions making them more vulnerable in a time like this. The World Health Organization (WHO) also lists obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in its top 10 most disabling conditions as measured by lost income and decreased quality of life.

The news and social media coverage have focused mainly on the confirmed cases the virus has caused across the globe, the contagiousness of the virus, the fatality rates, and so on. What is harder to measure is the psychological contagion — the sheer stress, worry and outright fear and how these can pass from person to person as quickly as a virus.

It’s too early to know how long this crisis will last or what its ultimate toll will be. One of the most disturbing things about what we’re going through is the uncertainty. When we know what’s happening, when we know what to expect, we feel safe — even if what we expect might be threatening. Crisis like this can result in what are known as distress reactions.

Distress reactions include trouble sleeping, difficulty in concentration, a feeling of being unsafe. Anger. Blaming others. A desire to socially isolate. It can lead to risky behaviour’s such as excessive substance use. One common response to disasters is work-life imbalance and interpersonal violence can flare.

What distress looks like for kids and teens:

Social disruption can be very stressful for children, too. Losing the routine of going to school, learning with friends and teachers and playing on the playground is jarring. Kids may express that frustration in a number of ways, depending on their age, including:

  • Crying a lot or being very cranky
  • Regressing in their behaviour, such as bedwetting
  • Being very worried or sad
  • Adopting eating or sleeping habits that aren’t healthy
  • Acting out (particularly among teenagers)
  • Not performing well in classwork or avoiding school demands altogether
  • Trouble staying focused
  • Losing interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • Headaches or body aches
  • Using alcohol, tobacco or drugs

Much of the health professional’s advice things like getting good sleep, eating regularly, staying hydrated, exercising. When we take care of our body, with good sleep in particular, but certainly food and water, our ability to think clearly, our ability to solve problems, our ability to manage our emotions, are all optimized.”

What can we do?
Understanding and reminding ourselves that we’re all going through something together, sometimes that can help us feel less alone. Below are some tips on how you can take care of your mental health and maintain connection.

  • Use technology — Ensuring that social distancing doesn’t result in extreme loneliness and a feeling of isolation. People who are staying home can set up group chats via Zoom or FaceTime or some other platform.
  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • When you can’t go outside, go inside — reflect, do yoga, meditation.
  • Be a role model — Reassure your child or teen that they are safe. Let them know it is ok if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.
  • Develop a plan — find what you like. It can take time, it can take preparation, but it can help a lot.
  • Make time to unwind — Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Seek help — Many mental health professionals are offering online support services and counselling to help people deal with overwhelming emotions and provide adequate information to deal with the distress.

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