Mental health in the era of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the life of millions globally.

 Many of us are facing challenges that can be stressful, overwhelming, and cause strong emotions. A recent editorial in the British Medical Journal (BMJ2020;370:m4352) has highlighted the evidence showing a deterioration in mental health and increased rates of self-harm.

The toxic combination of social isolation, loneliness, economic hardship, future uncertainty and loss of the usual support networks and nourishing activities has led to both an increase in the severity of preexisting mental health conditions and the emergence of new ones. In addition to this, the more direct impact of COVID-19 on mental health from fear of illness and health anxiety to recovery and post-traumatic stress and the impact of long covid to the consequences of bereavement. For those who have had and are recovering from COVID-19, there are also the potentially direct neurobiological effects of the virus on the brain. Then there is the issue of burnout, both occupational burnout and parental burnout for those trying to home school their children as a part of blended learning. Social media has had a huge role to play both positively and negatively.

On the one hand, it has been a great way to keep in contact with friends and family, therefore reducing the feeling of isolation. However, on the other hand, there is a lot of information very easily available on social media, which is inaccurate, misleading, and not factual. This can cause worry, upset and anxiety and therefore have a hugely negative impact on mental health.

Recognition

Being aware of the signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression is the first step in the recognition of deteriorating mental health either in ourselves or our loved ones.

Anxiety

Psychological symptoms:

• Restlessness, a sense of dread, feeling constantly on edge, difficulty concentrating, irritability, social withdrawal.

Physical symptoms:

• Dizziness, tiredness, palpitations (strong, fast, or irregular heartbeat), muscle aches, dry mouth, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, stomachache, feeling sick, headache, pins and needles, difficulty falling or staying asleep.

Depression

Psychological symptoms:

• Low mood, feeling hopeless, tearful, irritable, lacking motivation, difficulty making decisions, not enjoying life, having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself.

Physical symptoms:

• Moving or speaking slowly, changes in appetite or weight, unexplained aches or pains, lack of energy, disturbed sleep Action Tips to help improve mental wellbeing:

• Exercise – There is evidence that this can help depression.

• Sleep hygiene – A good sleep routine can improve our general wellbeing.

• Self-help – Talking through your feelings can be helpful.

You could talk to a friend or a relative. There are self-help books available as well as online therapy. Speak to a health professional if you experience symptoms of anxiety or depression for most of the day, every day, for more than 2 weeks.

National mental health helpline: MOPH & PHCC have collaborated with mental health services in Hamad medical corporation to launch a new helpline to provide support for anyone from children to adults who are experiencing Mental health difficulties because of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Assessment and support are available for 4 main categories:

1. Children & parents

2. Adults

3. Older people

4. Frontline health workers Please call 16000 from 7 am to 10 pm. (Multiple languages are available).

By Dr. Sabir Adam