COVID-19 and its Toll on Mental Health
Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19
Fear and anxiety have gripped the globe as COVID-19 continues to take its toll on human life, economies and society at large.
Experts are becoming increasingly concerned about the psychological effects of the epidemic particularly on the poor, elderly, children and teens, and front line healthcare workers.
Abdurahmaan Kenny, Mental Health Portfolio Manager at Pharma Dynamics, says levels of distress are bound to increase as more South Africans become infected, lose their income and social isolation becomes a way of life beyond the lockdown as a consequence of the outbreak.
“Vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, those with mental health conditions and pre-existing health conditions are likely to experience higher levels of psychological distress due to the major threat that the outbreak poses to their own personal health.
“Another high distress category is likely to include the poor who rely on odd jobs to make a living. Staying at home means they cannot provide for themselves or their families. Also, doctors and nurses, particularly those at the front line of the crisis may experience secondary traumatic stress (STS) reactions – a by-product of working in a traumatic environment.
“Equally, parents who are dealing with childcare responsibilities during school closures and work-from-home obligations, may experience greater levels of anxiety as they try to juggle it all while taking care of elderly parents during lockdown and reassuring their children,” Kenny says.
Kenny also advises that stress during the outbreak can include fear and concern about one’s own health and the health of loved ones, but this is completely normal. However, more detrimental changes to watch out for include sleeplessness, difficulty concentrating, feelings of hopelessness, suicidal thoughts and worsening of chronic health problems.
Those with pre-existing mental health conditions are also encouraged to continue with their treatment. Should their symptoms worsen, they should contact their healthcare provider (remotely if possible).
Advice to parents
Kenny advises the following for parents worried about their children’s health during the pandemic, “Arming yourself with the real facts about COVID-19 and the risk that it poses to yourself and your family can make the outbreak less stressful. If you remain calm and provide reassurance, children will follow your lead. However, teens are likely to be exposed to more communication from friends and social media, which may lead to excessive worry or sadness, unhealthy eating or sleeping habits or acting out.
“Keep the lines of communication open between you and your children. Answer questions they may have around COVID-19 based on facts provided by credible organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) or the SA government. Also try to find healthy ways to cope with stress and try stick to a routine with educational, fun and relaxing activities to make the days meaningful.
Kenny also advises, “Be a role model to your children. Limit your news coverage of the outbreak to once a day, including social media. Stick to a wholesome routine of your own by getting enough sleep, eating healthily, exercising and connecting with friends and family. Your children will take their cue from you.”
Supporting frontline responders
According to Kenny, “Many of our doctors, nurses and other healthcare personnel will be directly involved in the diagnosis, treatment and care of people with COVID-19, which places an extraordinary burden on them both physically and mentally. It is vital that they remain focused by taking care of their own health in order to continue to respond to the outbreak.
“Take regular breaks, eat right, practice deep breathing and relaxation techniques, get enough sleep and work in teams to help ease the burden. Also ensure that childcare, household and pet care responsibilities are in hand while you’re on duty and communicate with loved ones, even if it’s just once during a shift.”
Helping those in quarantine
“For the 112 people who have been released from quarantine in Polokwane early in South Africa’s lockdown – many of who were separated from their families for more than 65 days – first while being in lockdown in China for 51 days and then another 14 days in SA, a range of emotions probably followed,” explains Kenny.
“These could have included feelings of relief, stress from constant monitoring for signs and symptoms, sadness, frustration and even anger. Guilt about not being at home and caring for children or other emotional or mental health challenges may surface. Families should be extra supportive and allow those returning from quarantine time to adjust.
“It can also be traumatic being separated from loved ones after testing positive for COVID-19. Remain in contact as much as you can via phone or video calling to provide patients with the love and support they need.”
Kenny says knowing how to respond to these challenges when they arise will help you to stay mentally focused while caring for those closest to you. “For now, we need to embrace the new rhythm of life and the chance it gives us to connect with others in different ways.”
As a leading provider of central nervous system (CNS) medication for the treatment of depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, among other mental health conditions, Pharma Dynamics is committed to the mental wellbeing of all South Africans. The company advocates for prevention services, early identification and intervention for those at risk.
Those who feel mentally overwhelmed by COVID-19 or experience signs of depression can contact Pharma Dynamics’ toll-free helpline on 0800 205 026, which is manned by trained counselors who are on call from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week. The call centre is a critical service to the public and is therefore operational during lockdown.