It’s unsurprising that during a global health crisis, when everyone is taking precautions to not contract the COVID-19 virus, maintaining mental health is not on the top of people’s minds. It is this neglect that is being carried into and amplified during the pandemic.
The United Nations, during a policy brief on May 13th, highlighted how the pandemic is worsening global mental health – “Decades of neglect and underinvestment in addressing mental health needs have been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, warned everyone about the damaging effects of the pandemic on our psychological well-being in a video message. He said, “Mental health is at the core of our humanity. It enables us to lead rich and fulfilling lives and to participate in our communities. The COVID-19 pandemic is now hitting families and communities with additional mental stress.”
The Pandemic Is Worsening Stressors And Triggers To Mental Distress
The sudden and unexpected transition that the pandemic has forced on such a large scale, has increased pre-existing stressors and created novel ones.
The primary factor in people’s degrading mental health seems to be uncertainty and a sense of losing control. When will this be over? When will things get back to normal? Will my loved ones be okay? These are all questions that no one really has the answer to. People have been forced to stop living and focus on merely existing for the foreseeable future. With the officially imposed nationwide lockdown that no one sees a definitive end to, it’s easy to feel like one has lost control over not only what’s going on in the outside world, but even over one’s own life.
Job losses, job instability, or reduction of salaries due to the massive strain on the economy during lockdown, can be a major source of anxiety.
Despite all the memes on introverts enjoying social distancing, the situation can be severely painful for many. People are stuck away from homes in different cities or countries; some are having to quarantine within four walls all alone. Loneliness is extremely detrimental to mental well-being.
Several individuals are being forced to self-isolate with family members that create an unhealthy environment or that they have toxic relationships with. Domestic violence helplines have reported an unprecedented increase in distress calls, highlighting how home isn’t a safe and healthy space for everyone.
From financial burdens, to responsibilities at work and at home – the lockdown has enormously increased the workload and burdens that people have to bear.
The mass scale of the outbreak has only increased people’s feelings of aloneness. One may feel like they are failing at adjusting to the situation well, while everyone else is doing pretty well.
All of this is in addition to the universal ever-present sense of doom that the pandemic has brought with it.
Ways To Cope And Take Care Of Your Mental Health
· If you have the means to access at-home therapies like online counselling or teletherapy, then do give it a try. Therapy has always been a powerful tool, but is particularly helpful during these trying times.
Talking about your feelings and fears can be hugely beneficial, especially during social isolation. Talking to a professional can help alleviate your concerns and push you on the path to a healthy mental state.
· Be aware – The more you know and understand something, the less fearsome it seems. Trust only reliable sources and protect yourself from being negatively influenced by misinformation and rumours. Don’t follow sensational news and social media forwards that can impact your mental health. Protect the mental state of others by refusing to share unverified news or information.
· Take breaks from the news – Being constantly exposed to stressful and discouraging news can be upsetting.
· Take care of your body – An active and healthy body does not ensure good mental health – but it most definitely helps in boosting it. Meditate, get plenty of sleep, have a balanced and healthy diet, and do indoor exercises.
· Actively unwind – Set time aside and make an active effort to unwind. This could be anything that helps you relax – from meditating to watching a movie.
· Connect with people, but don’t put pressure on yourself to be social – Social isolation can make you feel lonely. Communicate and connect with friends and family to remind yourself that you’re not alone. However, don’t get overwhelmed by all the advice being circulated on virtual socialisation.
If you feel like conversation and socialising is not something that your mental state can handle right now, don’t feel guilty about not picking up the phone to call everyone on your contact list.
Take the time to revel in some solitude and connect with yourself without any pressure or guilt.
· Don’t Google that symptom again – Any physical discomfort can become a symptom of the coronavirus if you Google it enough.
Unless you’re experiencing something that has been medically established as a definitive symptom of the virus, stop letting Google encourage and intensify your health anxieties.
· Focus on what you can control – If a sense of helplessness and lack of control over what is happening in the world is causing your mental health to deteriorate, focus on the things you can control – like what you eat, creating a daily routine, sharing verified and helpful information to your loved ones, donating to the fight against the virus, etc.
Help Yourself And Others
Times are tough, and it’s important to not neglect caring for your mental health in addition to your physical health. Identify and address mental health concerns, not only in yourself, but also others around you.
It is time for us to be there for and uplift each other as a community, more than ever.
Remember that you’re not alone in what you’re feeling.
Be kind, not only to others, but also yourself.
You can also call distress helplines provided by The Health Collective India.
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