COVID & mental health
Sunday Gleaner Writer
Trapped in this nightmare
I wish I’d wake
As my whole life begins to shake
Four walls surround me
An empty gaze
I can’t find my way out of this maze
Most Jamaicans have been trying their best to cope with the unexpected emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has descended on the populace like a thief in the night. For many, their entire lifestyle has been dramatically changed ... in some cases, forever!
Some have lost their jobs and are now sitting idly at home. Others are forced to stay home because they are said to be in the ‘vulnerable group’ and, therefore, should not expose themselves to undue risks.
Of course, with children now being homeschooled, it is another situation to adjust to. Put them all together, and it is enough to drive some people bonkers.
Maintaining mental health during the pandemic is not easy, and it is something that will take developing some healthy habits to overcome.
Family and Religion asked psychiatrist Dr Jeffrey Walcott for his advice on how to cope during this unprecedented time. He described the COVID-19 pandemic as a unique situation.
“One of the hallmarks of mental-health wellness is the ability for persons to connect to others. Usually, when we recognise that persons are having challenges, the first thing that we recommend is that they reach out and interact with people. And as you can imagine, under these circumstances, that has been made exceedingly difficult,” he pointed out.
According to Walcott, some persons are panicking about the virus because it is known to have killed thousands and made millions sick worldwide. People are either fearful, anxious, or experiencing some level of uncertainty because of the disease or as a result of the protective measures that have been taken, which are jeopardising jobs and livelihoods.
“There are multifaceted amounts of challenges that we are being faced, and all the goals and aspirations for the year must be put aside, with the focus being just to stay alive and well,” he said, sharing that there are steps that can be put in place to protect one’s mental health, with the most important being to maintain some level of organisation in one’s daily routines or activities.
Noting that some persons can’t tell “Wednesday form Sunday” anymore, Walcott warned that it is a dangerous state for persons to be in.
“As you get more and more into psychological stress, you have to be able to maintain a certain level of organised activity in your day, whether it means that you have breakfast at a given time, you go out into the garden and interact with the plants - any ordinary task – as long as it’s done within a structured time,” he shared.
Walcott also advised that needs must be structured, whether going to the supermarket or doing any other chores, he said it should be planned in time frames, preferably in slots that would be least occupied.
For personal well-being, he said it is very important to stay physically active as being active improves your state of well-being and releases endorphins, which aid in giving a feeling of wellness and calm.
“It helps with serenity; it helps with happiness. Exercise is very critical. Most of the persons who died from the virus were persons who were ill or had some form of disorder that they had not controlled. Exercise will help you control those as well. So exercise is not just about your well-being, but it may actually be the difference between you being infected and a person that goes on a mortality statistic, which is going to increase,” Walcott opined.
He reminded persons to remain connected to others. According to him, living in an age of technological advancements, one can get caught up, but the ‘human’ element should not be overlooked.
“You have to be able to reach out to people on a regular basis. Check up on your neighbours, using the technology. Use social media and ensure that you stay connected to others,” he stressed.
Walcott said that isolation can be a difficult thing to deal with and can lead to mental-health problems.