Coronavirus and mental health

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More frequent communication can keep everyone’s hopes up.  Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash

In the light of a new illness which is changing people’s behaviour, a look at mental health, in the context of mass change in behaviour, is probably timely.

Key mental health problems in any society potentially divide into three types:

  • problems of isolation (loneliness, alienation, feeling different, bullying, prejudice)
  • problems of stress (pressure, overload, hyperattention, overwork, work-life balance)
  • problems of despair (loss of meaning, loss in general, specific bereavements, loss of supportive environment)
Obviously these overlap, but it’s a useful categorisation because helps us to be more specific in seeing what might be done to mitigate different types of mental illness in a particular context.

ISOLATION

Specific measures we can take to mitigate isolation are:

  • MORE FREQUENT COMMUNICATION – increase the frequency of non-contact communications such as phonecalls and messaging
  • GO ONLINE – facilitate for each other, especially the elderly, means of online communication
  • OFFER FRIENDLY SIGNS – make more effort to wave and smile… these are good non-contact ways of being inclusive
  • FIGHT PREJUDICE – include strangers in our smiling responses – we don’t know what they may be going through
STRESS

Specific measure we can take to reduce stress are:

  • REDUCE EXPECTATIONS – where possible, be clear that less is expected, while everyone adapts
  • MORE FREQUENT SUPPORT – check more often whether anyone needs extra support in their job, activities or life
  • MORE FREQUENT BREAKS – make it part of our culture to take standard breaks (enculturation reduces guilt)
DESPAIR

Specific measures we can take to work with despair are:

  • MORE FREQUENT CONTACT – Social contact, even phone and online, can stop spirals of despair
  • LISTENING – People suffering loss are often afraid of burdening others with their thoughts – good listeners are valuable
  • VOLUNTARY AND STATE ASSISTANCE – Helplines, advice lines, free services, and counselling, are all ways to allow the reintroduction of hope
WHAT CAN AN INDIVIDUAL DO TO HELP?

Collating the above into a coherent personal strategy, we can help each other by:

  1. Communicating more frequently and widely, by phone and online
  2. Checking more often whether help is needed
  3. Taking time to listen more
  4. Participating in help lines, advice lines, and support services
  5. When out in public, giving out positive signals, even to strangers
  6. Allowing more frequent breaks – making a virtue of it
In short, while physical contact is limited, and resources are too, we may all benefit from developing a stronger public spirit.
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