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The month of May is celebrated as Mental Health Awareness month. It is relieving to see Mental Health is beginning to get the attention it deserves and is no longer being swept under the rug or pushed to the side. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic we are preoccupied with concerns about our physical health. As we practice social distancing and quarantining to protect our physical well-being, we cannot ignore the effects these drastic changes, caused by the pandemic , are having on our mental health.
What does it mean to be healthy? The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. So, while we practice social distancing to protect our physical health and use social media for our social well-being, how are we mentally coping? Our mental health is just as important as our physical well-being, therefore, it should not be neglected. Mental health is not merely the absence of mental disorders. It also incorporates cognitive, emotional and behavioral well-being. WHO defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”. Mental health is much more complex than many people understand; it is not binary nor black and white. There are multiple factors to consider. The various types of mental illnesses are mood disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, eating disorders, trauma-related disorders such as PTSD and substance abuse disorders. While mental illnesses can be hereditary or biological, many are caused by environmental factors. So, how are you coping with all that is happening now due to COVID-19?
Our mental health is being put to the test with all that is happening around us. It is even more difficult for those of us with pre-existing mental illnesses. We are living in a stressful period. Fear and anxiety about the disease and the effects it is having on our lives and the global economy can cause strong emotions in adults and children. Most of us are fearful and worried about our own health and the health of loved ones. Unfortunately, some persons have already lost loved ones to the disease. This can result in severe stress and depression as the thought of losing a loved one is too much to bare. The pandemic has also caused serious employment issues around the world. Millions of people have filed for unemployment in the United States since the outbreak of the disease. The issue of unemployment in Jamaica has been exacerbated by the pandemic as many persons have lost their jobs due to the closing of several businesses. Also, persons with jobs are facing issues as well because pay and work hours have decreased. So, many of us are worried about buying food, paying bills and sustaining internet connection for work and school. It is a stressful time for students as well. With classes being moved to online platforms, several other issues have arised. Quite a number of students, primary, secondary and tertiary, do not have internet access. This may be due to where they live or the unavailability of funds to get WIFI connection or purchase a data plan. It has also become increasingly difficult for students to focus on lessons and assignments because our minds are preoccupied with concerns about what is happening in our country and around the globe. The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed our daily lives and many of us are starting to feel like prisoners in our own homes. It is becoming increasingly difficult to even tell what day of the week it is. Our social lives are slowly becoming completely digital and we are left to only reminisce on what it was like to go out with friends and family members. We can no longer go to church, parties, the movies, the beach, restaurants. And the online versions and food delivery services, though convenient, do not give the same feeling of satisfaction. So how do we ensure our mental well-being in these hard times?
It is good to continuously remind ourselves that this pandemic will not last forever. We just need to continue to wash our hands, practice social distancing and stay home as much as we can to prevent ourselves and others from getting sick. Psychologists advise that we take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories. We already know all we need to in order to stay safe from the virus. So, continuously checking the number of cases and deaths, and filling our brains with news about the disease is not the best thing for our mental health. Some news media and those annoying WhatsApp messages are design to incite fear. Also, make a habit of taking deep breaths, stretching and meditating to keep your mind and body relaxed. Eating healthy, exercising and ensuring that we get adequate sleep is also beneficial. Many of us have seen a change in our sleep patterns since the pandemic. Sleeping too much or not sleeping enough can be the result of depression. Ensure to maintain a balance. A lot of persons have turned to alcohol and/or drugs to cope. Psychologists and healthcare professionals have advised against these. Try to find healthier coping mechanisms. Do some activities you enjoy like reading, binge watching a television show, playing videogames, etc. Finding a new hobby and developing a new skill is also a good way of maintaining good mental health during this period. Get into these social media challenges, start a YouTube channel or a blog. There are multiple ways to keep our brains occupied and not focused on the negative around us. Also, try to stay connected with others, especially your friends and family. Many of us are suffering mentally, emotionally and socially during this pandemic and even a short text from someone can make a big difference. If you feel like your mental health is diminishing, get help. Seek professional help or talk to someone you trust. Let’s just look out for each other. We are all in this together.