Sat | Jun 6, 2020

Speak up, speak now! - Guard your mental health during coronavirus

Published:Wednesday | April 22, 2020 | 12:15 AMArdene Reid-Virtue/Contributor

Social distancing and the phased lockdowns caused by the spread of COVID-19, and the menacing probability of becoming a victim certainly give merit to considerations about how citizens of Jamaica may be psycho-emotionally affected.

While there are overt measures being implemented to cater to the physical well-being of the nation, we ought not to forget about treating with the mental struggles with which some citizens may be experiencing. Global news has already shared sad occurrences, such as a nurse from the United Kingdom who committed suicide because she did not possess the emotional mettle to withstand the dismal situation of having to treat a number of sick patients and witness many deaths.

Additionally, we heard of UK and American teenagers who shortened their lives because they fell victims to the psychological impacts of being forced to remain in isolation. These unfortunate incidents motivated my contemplation about whether we are doing enough to make certain that as we adhere to rules geared at safeguarding our physical health, we are also executing adequate measures to ensure our mental well-being, or are we continuing to operate by our Jamaican age-old ‘No problem, man’ mantra, which gives a disillusioned impression that we are strong and are able to cope.

There is a popular expression used on social media, ‘Check on us, we are not OK’. Some persons state it when they express their longing for simply being on the outside and having the liberty of unrestricted mobility. Though the instruction is usually accompanied by humour, there is indeed seriousness in the necessity to keep in touch with individuals whom we know suffer from depression and other emotional challenges. Also, it is imperative for us to pay keen attention to signs persons may display that give an indication they are not managing well.

Last year, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton and his team gave much attention to mental health, and this somewhat lessened the stigma thrust on individuals who admit or are known to have mental and emotional challenges. One of the initiatives undertaken was to announce a Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Helpline in October 2019. Let us not regress in our time of fighting COVID-19 by giving the impression that mental health is unimportant or it is not a priority. Also, let us jettison the habit of masking our mental and emotional imbalances, and do exactly what the then mental health campaign advised, ‘Speak Up, Speak Now’.

EFFECTS ON CHILDREN

There is a long list of individuals we ought to keep under our radar. We need to bear in mind children and teenagers who may be grappling with the prohibition of seeing their friends. Yes, they are now getting increased opportunities to interact with their gadgets which they normally do, but just the thought of being denied the option to choose being outside and freely participate in face-to-face socialisation is enough reason to cause them emotional stress. Many of us may commit the error of not paying attention to them because we underthink this possibility. In addition, we need to also consider the elderly who live by themselves and are accustomed to visits from family members and neighbours. Check on them, as well as people who are suffering from genuine paranoia caused by fear of contracting the virus. Do not forget some parents who are emotionally and mentally frail from the difficulties and demands of homeschooling. Importantly, it goes without saying that our valued health workers must also be on our consideration list. In essence, let us all keep in touch with each other to offer assistance, and say the right words – instead of calling or texting to maintain dialogue about the horrid death tolls, maybe a word of inspiration would be better. Another alternative is to share coping mechanisms such as activities we could engage in while being at home, and avenues we could capitalise on to achieve personal development.

I hope if someone were to call the Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Helpline (888-NEW LIFE (639-5433), there will be someone at the other end ready to ably assist the caller.

Ardene Reid-Virtue is a certified peer counsellor and educator. Email: ardenevirtue@hotmail.com.