COVID-19 and Your Mental Health

COVID-19 and Your Mental Health | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Millions of people, worldwide, suffer from mental illness. Among the most commonly diagnosed conditions affecting mental health are anxiety and depression, which include symptoms such as panic attacks, feelings of hopelessness, restlessness, lack of energy, anger or irritability, loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, social withdrawal, thoughts of suicide, and even things like headaches, stomach aches, and other general aches and pains that are otherwise unexplained. Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression can be triggered (or worsened) by life-altering events, such as a traumatic experience, financial problems, and illness – including COVID-19. The uncertainty surrounding the virus combined with increased social withdrawal and potential financial implications (due to job loss, for example) may make it increasingly difficult for those who are already struggling with mental illness to cope with the pandemic, while others may experience a new decline in their mental wellbeing.

Physical distancing, in particular, can also be very problematic for some. Teenagers, for example, are used to partaking in social gatherings and other activities. A lack of social connection, however, can lead to increased feelings of isolation, anxiety, and overall unhappiness. That being said, it’s important for all of us to stay as socially connected with others as possible and finding different ways to keep those lines of communication with others open so that we don’t feel entirely cut off from others. For younger children who may not be old enough to understand the impact of COVID-19 and the precautions we need to take to keep one another safe, it’s important to explain to them that this is only temporary, while answering any questions they may have as openly and honest as possible.

As more people spend time socially isolating with their partners (i.e. a husband/wife), studies have also shown there to be a rise in cases of domestic abuse, which can range from physical abuse, psychological or emotional abuse, or sexual abuse. According to a Statistics Canada survey conducted in April, 1 in 10 women said they were very or extremely concerned about potential domestic violence in their home during COVID-19 due to being confined, while 4 in 10 Canadians reported they were very or extremely concerned about potential civil disorder. If you’re someone who feels they are in danger or is experiencing domestic abuse in the home, it’s important that you develop a safety plan, including where you could go in the event of an emergency, as well as different ways to deal with your emotions. You can find information on how to come up with a safety plan by visiting www.sheltersafe.ca. On this website you will also be able to find a list of various resources, including Canada-wide, 24-hour domestic violence phone lines.

While it’s normal to experience feelings of anxiousness and stress due to the uncertainty that surrounds COVID-19, the most important thing is that we all find healthy and positive ways to cope while continuing to take all precautions necessary to ensure that we are keeping ourselves and those around us as safe as possible – like washing our hands regularly, keeping at least 2 metres apart from others when in public/at the workplace (or wearing a face covering when that’s not possible), and so forth. It can also be a good ideal to find other ways to distract yourself. For example, by unplugging for social media and turning off the news. While it’s important to stay up-to-date, that constant stream of discussion surrounding COVID-19 can be overwhelming. Instead, limit your use of social media and tv-time while finding other activities to refocus your attention on, such as going for a walk in your neighbourhood or reading a book.