Mental Health Awareness Month – Coping in a Pandemic

October is Mental Health Awareness Month, but the month also marks South Africa’s emergence from lockdown. So, it is apt to look at mental health in the pandemic.

The pandemic has been stressful for most. The fear and anxiety the new virus caused and uncertainty around its prevention and treatment was overwhelming. In addition, social distancing, the lockdown and preventative measures like self-isolation left people feeling lonely and vulnerable with little outlet for their stress.

Having said that, these public health actions were vital in controlling the spread of the virus. So, ways to deal with the stress, in a healthy way, is a necessity.

According to the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), stress during a pandemic can cause fear and worry about your own and your loved ones’ health; disruption in sleep patterns; increased reliance on substances such as alcohol and/or tobacco and the worsening of chronic health conditions.

It becomes critical to take care of your mental health. Some healthy ways to cope with stress include:

  • Empowering yourself with information; find out what to do if you or someone close to you get sick; know the symptoms to look out for and where to seek treatment.
  • Pay special attention to your mental health, this will help you think clearly and logically if you need to react to a situation:
    • Make time to relax
    • Get in touch with loved ones
    • Stay connected to your support systems be it your family, community, friends or faith-based organization
    • Stay informed, but try to take breaks from watching, reading or listening to too much news
  • Take care of your physical health:
    • With breathing exercises and meditation
    • Stretches and exercise
    • Follow a healthy diet
    • Get enough sleep
    • Avoid using substances like alcohol and drugs to cope
    • If you are on chronic medication, keep taking your medicine

Those with pre-existing mental health conditions (such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and substance abuse problems) are particularly vulnerable at this time.  So staying vigilant of your or a loved one’s mental health is crucial.

If you feel overwhelmed or become aware of someone close to you in need of help, speak to your doctor (GP), healthcare practitioner or clinic. SADAG and the SA Federation of Mental Health (SAFMH) list a number of helplines and resources on their websites.

Next week, we look at ways to take care of your mental health.

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