The mental health of our country is considered the “collateral damage” of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Whether you are feeling stuck at home, or separated from other people, this pandemic has been difficult for all of us,” Premier John Horgan said during a press briefing on April 9. “Everyone is experiencing stress, anxiety, depression and disconnection from what the world was supposed to be.
“If you’re a front-line worker, you’re working hard, you’re stressed – your family is stressed – you’re under intense pressure. People have lost their jobs, business have been shuttered. Seniors are safe at home but they’ve lost their connection to the outside world in many cases and those who live alone or in remote areas are feeling more alone than ever before.”
It’s critical to keep up mental health and wellness as much as our physical fitness, says Judy Darcy, B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.
“Many of the things that bring us joy have been put on hold,” from birthdays to marriages, attending fitness classes at a gym to eating out in a restaurant, she said. Equally, people have been prevented from comforting someone who is seriously ill, or simply holding the hand of someone who is dying.
Frontline workers who have been thrust into tragic circumstances and a work environment on high alert “can’t keep pace,” she said. Nor should they have to. That’s why the provincial government is looking closely at the long-term impacts to our collective mental health, and making programs available to people who need help coping.
“The actions we take now to look after the mental health and wellbeing of our communities will reap benefits down the road,” Darcy said.
The province put $5 million into expanding counselling programs, including increasing access to Foundry youth clinics and Bounce Back, among others.
The B.C. Psychologists Association has a team of 200 psychologists volunteering their services to help frontline workers, and a hub for frontline community health care workers has been created too, Darcy said.
“Physical distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation,” she added.
Dr. Samantha Saffy, a psychiatrist at the Oceanside Health Centre, says when she’s talking to patients these days one thing she always emphasizes is: take a break.
It’s something that she said is important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amid all the social media posts encouraging us to learn a new skill and take advantage of the time we have at home, is stress and anxiety.
“I start off by just telling them to give themselves a break over this time and not to expect to conduct business as normal, at home or anywhere else,” said Saffy. “Because these are very different times and this is not a time to push forward with big self-development goals or growth.”
Rather, Saffy said she encourages her patients to lower their expectations on what they can achieve right now. She also recommends trying to do the same with the people around you.
“Give everyone else the benefit of the doubt, because I think people respond in different ways to crisis,” she said. “And if we realize that we’re doing the best we can everyone else out there is too, it makes it much easier to cope with any kind of difficult situations.”
While lowering your expectations, Saffy said it’s a good idea to try and make yourself a routine — no matter how basic. Without being too rigid, Saffy said it can make a difference for your mental health.
“Create a schedule for yourself and your family, try and go to bed at the same time every evening, try and wake up at more or less the same time,” she said. “Schedule one or two things in a day that you need to do and that could be as simple as the laundry… and then schedule one or two things that you want to do.”
Saffy said working communication into your schedule is important, especially if you’re living alone. Social isolation is different from social distancing, and it’s important to maintain some type of human connection.
Saffy specifically points to seniors, who make up a large portion of the PQB population, who might be especially missing visiting their families right now.
“I would just pick up the phone,” she said. “It’s not unusual during these times that if you previously spoke with your family on the mainland, for example, once a week, it’s not unusual during these times to feel like you want to call two or three times in a week, or even every day and that’s OK.”
Above all Saffy said people can just do their best, but that these tips might help someone struggling with the real mental health consequences of the pandemic.
“It’s not forever, it’s a season in our lives, and we have to realize that this is something that will pass and that when it does pass, we can resume our goals, our dreams, our projects,” she said. “We don’t need to feel pressure to complete them in the midst of a pandemic.”
Some additional tips from Dr. Saffy:
• Limit news consumption. Saffy suggests choosing a couple of times a day when you get your vital news. Try and read some feel-good news.
• Try and get outside once a day. Saffy said seeing the outside world, as well as getting some exercise, is important.
• For parents: know that children might be having trouble finding the vocabulary to express how the pandemic is affecting them. Know you’re not failing as a parent(s) if your child is acting out.
• If you have the capacity, do something nice for someone else. Saffy said leaving a bottle of wine on a neighbour’s step or doing something else selfless can contribute positively to your own mental health.
• Reach out for help. The Vancouver Island Crisis Line is available 24/7: 1-888-494-3888. Mental health walk-in is still available at the Oceanside Health Centre, and people can also call into the Oceanside Health Centre at (250) 951-9550. She recommends anxietycanada.com for an online resource for those experiencing COVID-19 related anxiety.
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