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Whenever there is a crisis that has the potential to affect so many, there are also opportunities to see the power of the human spirit.
During the flu of 1918, rural family members became instant nurses and ministered food to the ill.
In October 1957, students in infirmaries coped with the “Asian flu” not only with aspirin and orange juice but also with the fortitude of having lived in a world where vaccines were rare and infectious disease was the norm.
Today, to help fight against COVID-19, seamstresses provide masks to hospitals and motor companies convert machines to provide respirators. People find ways to rise above feelings of hopelessness and overwhelm to support one another.
Maintaining Mental Health During a Pandemic
Managing stress can be broken down into managing day-to-day stress during periods of normalcy and managing stress during periods of crisis.
- On a day to day basis, practicing mental health hygiene is just as important as physical hygiene and helps in maintaining your overall health.
Limit your exposure to the news media, spend intentional time focused on what is positive and encouraging in your life, and stay connected socially to those you trust. Family, friends, and lay counselors can be a source of support and encouragement.
Taking medicines or alternative health treatments as prescribed by your doctor is important, and so is maintaining regular contact with a mental health professional.
- During periods of crisis, it is important to reach out to a mental health professional in between appointments. If the regular provider is unavailable, most countries have a designated crisis line to reach out to for immediate help. There are many resources available for those who are dealing with symptoms of depression or anxiety.
Reach Out for Help
Most mental health organizations have telephonic and online help options, including the following:
- Lifeline Chat is an online service available through the National Suicide Prevention Line.
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a helpline for those that just want to talk.
- For those experiencing a crisis, there is a Crisis Text Line (Text NAMI to 741-741). (1)
- You may also Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor. (2)
Even popular social media outlets can be useful in this regard. COVID-19 is an evolving crisis that presents new challenges and developments every day.
While it is important to stay informed about the latest updates, binge-watching the news can take a toll on your mental health. A lot of news outlets have a tendency to sensationalize headlines to get viewership, even if it is at the cost of the viewer’s mental health.
Also, there’s so much misinformation floating around even on news channels, that you must only follow reputable outlets, ideally getting news only in small doses to preserve your mental health.
Symptoms of Depression During Long-Term Quarantine
Symptoms of depression and anxiety can peak during periods of high stress. These symptoms can be different for each individual.
In terms of depression, most people have symptoms of low or depressed mood with reduced interest in things that usually give them pleasure as well as feelings of being less confident than usual. Those who are isolated or in quarantine for long periods are susceptible to long-term mental consequences.
Extreme age groups, such as the elderly and the very young, can be more predisposed to difficulties with stress due to the limited resources.
According to Dr. Brooks in her article in Lancet, “infection fears, frustration, boredom, inadequate supplies, inadequate information, financial loss, and stigma” are some typical concerns experienced by those in long-term quarantine. (3)
What we have learned from the past outbreaks of SARS and Ebola is people do not do well in long-term quarantine. Symptoms of PTSD can be experienced, particularly in people with direct exposure to those who are suffering.
Quarantined staff report symptoms indicative of depression, such as tiredness, poor concentration, indecisiveness, irritability, and insomnia.
They also experience anxiety when dealing with symptomatic patients. These symptoms include irritability, detachment from others, deteriorating work performance, and reluctance to work or consideration of resignation.
Measures to Curb Depression During a Pandemic
- Properly channel your energy: Some people tend to be consumed with busyness, particularly extroverts. When they are forced to be still, they have a tendency to struggle with boredom, loneliness, or worse, depression. Finding a way to channel your energy into something useful is necessary.
- Connect with those around you: For those who are home with friends or family, this is a privileged time to make new connections, learn things about each other, and create bonds.
- Indulge in dialogues: In addition to playing the usual board or video games, have meaningful conversations with your loved ones. Dialogues also offer an opportunity to deepen your relationship with others.
- Put technology to use: If home alone, connect with those who you have not seen or spoken to in years via phone or video conferencing.
- Help children understand: For those with children, keeping a routine establishes normalcy. When explaining information, first gauge what they know and then share factual but encouraging information.
- Help community workers: Essential workers, including healthcare workers, first responders, and sanitation workers, will have more exposure to those who are ill as well as information that the lay population is not aware of.
This can increase feelings of responsibility, survivor guilt, and hopelessness. These workers should be quick to seek help from their colleagues and other health professionals.
- Make use of employee assistance programs: Most organizations have an employee assistance program made available to them. It is recommended that employees take advantage of these programs to have someone to talk to during this time.
- Let your emotions flow: A lot of people are experiencing some form of grief from missed opportunities. If you are one of them, take time to grieve these losses, big or small. For those who have a colleague or loved one, who succumbed to COVID-19, understanding the grief process may be helpful.
- Understand your feelings: Feelings of shock, anger, sadness, desire to bargain, and eventually, acceptance of the loss will occur. It is normal to move backward and forward throughout these feelings and stages.
At this time, more than any other, recognize that you are not alone in your experiences. Just as we have dealt with crises in the past, we can survive this one as well.