Acknowledging that the COVID-19 outbreak has generated stress in the population, the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a list of considerations for taking care of people’s mental health.
How is the outbreak stressing mental health?
On March 12, The Indian Express reported that the constant updates about the outbreak have resulted in many doctors in Mumbai getting patients suffering from a combination of anxiety and phobia induced by coronavirus-related information. At this point, those with existing mental health conditions such as anxiety are especially vulnerable.
Also, as many people across the world have been told to work from home and practise social distancing for at least the next two weeks, people are confined to their homes, which means fewer day-to-day interactions with people outside.
In an article on the website of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), its Dr Doreen Marshall, its vice-president, has said that human beings are hard-wired to want to know what is happening when and to notice things are threatening to them. Therefore, it is natural for people to feel stressed during situations where there is little certainty, such as in the present disease outbreak. She says that a “large part” of anxiety comes from a sense of not being able to control something that people think they should be able to.
What are the mental health considerations recommended?
Dr Marshall advises limiting the intake of news, challenging oneself to stay in the present, interacting with nature as long as it means avoiding crowds and staying connected with friends and family.
Almost every health organisation including the WHO, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Mental Health Europe have urged people to limit their consumption of news during the outbreak. The WHO notes that people should avoid watching, listening or reading news that causes them to be anxious or distressed. It advises that only that information should be sought that helps in taking practical measures to protect oneself from coronavirus. “The sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel worried,” the WHO has said.
The US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) advises people to understand the “real risk” of harm to themselves and people around them during an outbreak like situation by referring to credible sources of information and by avoiding looking at news 24/7. “The public perception of risk during a situation such as an infectious disease outbreak is often inaccurate,” it says. SAMHSA also advises reaching out to people using the telephone, email and text as it is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety, depression and loneliness.
According to the UK’s Mental Health Foundation, people staying at home should try to create a different daily routine for themselves, having an exercise routine and trying new relaxation techniques.
What about people in isolation?
Isolation refers to a situation in which a person infected with the disease is separated from those that are not sick to prevent the spread of infection. For people who are isolated, the WHO recommends staying connected and maintaining social networks. It says that even during isolation, people should try and keep up with their daily routines. “During times of stress, pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in healthy activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly, keep regular sleep routines and eat healthy food,” it says.
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