MENTAL HEALTH CARE IN TIMES OF COVID-19
Dr. Sneha Sharma
WHO has declared COVID-19 pandemic as a public health emergency of International concern. Countries are struggling to cope with the novel virus which has bought world to a standstill. Public health measures need to be implemented at a war-like scale all over India if we want to emerge on the other side of this pandemic.
As the country prepares for a lock-down with access to only basic services and persistent insistence on social distancing, the stress on the individuals and society at large cannot be ignored. The fear of contacting and transmission of the illness, seeing vulnerable loved ones struggle with symptoms, the emotional repercussions of social distancing and isolation, and the financial implications of a global economic slowdown can be a breeding ground for emergence of multiple mental health issues. As a result, it becomes pertinent that we all take certain preventive measures to ensure mental health for one and all.
Following certain basic self care in these testing times can ensure optimal level of functioning.
- Stay connected – phone/ social media
- Stay informed
- Actively manage your well-being
- Have a goal, learn a skill
- Be empathetic and supportive
- Ask for help
While the importance of physical distancing cannot in emphasised enough in the current times, social isolation is not advisable in stressful periods. Channelling technology to stay connected to your near and dear ones is a boon at present. Being emotionally available for those in distress and gathering emotional support when in need is important to maintain mental health. Many people always found it difficult to take out time from their fast-paced lives for spending time with parents, children, reigniting romance with partner and playing with pets. Just changing the perspective to this situation might help a few.
The way to fight and cope with an emerging pandemic is to stay informed about the new developments. However, depend on reliable sources like the WHO and local health platforms for updates. The information seeking should be directed towards taking practical measures to plan and protect loved ones. Avoid continuous inflow of news as it creates unnecessary fear and worries. Rather actively seek updates at fixed intervals only.
As much as possible, refrain from reading and distributing sensational information and news from unverified sources.
ACTIVELY MANAGE YOUR WELL-BEING
Be mindful of your mental and physical health in trying times. Try sticking to a routine with respect to sleep and appetite. Include physical exercising and staying active in the routine. Get creative and find out activities that are interesting and pleasurable to you. Avoid unhelpful coping strategies like use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs.
HAVE A GOAL, LEARN A SKILL
Look for positivity in times of despair. Change your perspective and use the available extra time to hone a new skill or a previously unexplored hobby. This can vary from reading the books that’s been lying unread for long, learning a new language, learning new skills like photography, musical instrument, cooking, yoga or meditation.
BE EMPATHETIC AND SUPPORTIVE
This pandemic has taught us that no race, religion, caste and class is immune and we all are in this together. Show empathy and support towards fellow neighbours, household helps, healthcare workers on the frontline and others helping with delivering of essential services.
Many incidents have come to light where essential care workers like health care workers, airline crews and others were discriminated against, in their neighbourhood. Even those diagnosed or requiring quarantine in view of COVID-19 should be treated with compassion, and stigma and prejudice should be avoided.
ASK FOR HELP
Dealing with stressful times can lead to feelings of fear, worry and despair. Mental health problems can manifest as changes in sleeping and eating pattern, increasing substance use like tobacco and alcohol, excessive worrying, crying, hopelessness and in extreme cases, thoughts of harming oneself and dying.
For certain individuals who face emotional or physical abuse at home, these times might be harder than the rest. It is important to recognise these feelings in self and others, and ask for help from trained mental health professionals.
While the current situation might seem overwhelming, keeping ourselves grounded and repeatedly reminding one-self that this too shall pass is important. Life will continue to have meaning beyond this experience.
This article was written by Dr. Sneha Sharma (MBBS, MD- Psychiatry and Deaddiction); currently working as Consultant Psychiatrist at Tualsi Healthcare, Delhi.