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As a psychiatrist, I think about protecting mental health all the time, for my patients, for my team members, my friends, and of course for myself.
But COVID-19 is different: is about managing the anxiety of a major, invisible threat in a situation where we cannot put in motion our tried-and-tested stress coping skills.
And suddenly we may feel deprived, locked in, ineffective, powerless, hopeless, with no control over our present, and end up with more anxiety, more low mood, more obsessive and compulsive symptoms.
So what shall we do? Well, I do not have that silver bullet, but if you keep reading, you will perhaps find some understanding of how you can make it work for you.
We need social interactions to maintain good mental health, as Aristotle said, “man is by nature a social animal”.
But now we are separated from our friends, family members and work colleagues. Luckily, modern times have brought us new ways to interconnect. Over 3 billion of us are using social media, and digital tools, such as video calls and instant messaging, to stay in touch.
While we have heard many times that these means, especially when used excessively, may lower our mood, damage positive interpersonal relationships, or disrupt our sleep, they may turn out to be helpful in feeding the needs of our social nature while home-bound.
And yet, many in our societies will not have access to these means.
My 80-year old mother barely knows how to use her mobile to call her relatives and friends, let alone to share photos or videos with them. So let’s not forget about those digitally-shy people who may still rely on a landline call for contact, and make an effort to make that call, or to drop a card on their doorstep.
While it is under our control how we use social media and digital means to keep in touch, it’s also easy to lose control over them, and let them dominate our day.
At this time of crisis, we may end up searching the press compulsively, for news on that vaccine or treatment, and instead find the same upsetting headings repeated over many sites, with a less than reassuring result. Again, anything to reduce the uncertainty we can’t tolerate.
The WHO recommends that we limit the times we check the news, be rigorous, and refuse to be constantly distracted by media. As Rosie Weatherley, spokesperson for the mental health charity Mind said recently: