COVID-19: How to take care of your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak

The novel coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China by late 2019 is currently having a significant impact worldwide

COVID-19: How to take care of your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak
The WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic – Photo: File photo/EL UNIVERSAL
English 21/03/2020 15:17 Newsroom/EL UNIVERSAL in English Mexico City Actualizada 13:39
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On January 30, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak as an international emergency and on March 11, the WHO  declared the global COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.

This new disease that originated in Wuhan, China by late 2019, is currently having a significant impact worldwide and given its recent origin, scientists and doctors are still performing the corresponding research to develop a vaccine against it.

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It is common for times of crisis to cause distress in the population, hence, the WHO has issued mental health considerations for mental and psychological well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic.

General recommendations
COVID-19 has and is likely to affect people from many countries, in many geographical locations. The WHO recommends not to attach it to any ethnicity or nationality. Be empathetic to every single one who got affected, regardless of their country; those with the disease have done nothing wrong.

Do not refer to people with the disease as “COVID-19 cases,” “victims,” “COVID-19 families,” or the “diseased”. They are “people who have COVID-19,” “people who are being treated for COVID-19,” “people who are recovering from COVID-19,” and after recovering their life will go on with their jobs, families, and loved ones.

Avoid watching, reading or listening to news that make you feel anxious or distressed. Seek information to prepare your plans and protect yourself and your loved ones. Seek information updates at specific times during the day once or twice. The sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can make anyone feel worried.

Protect yourself and be supportive of others. Assisting others in their time of need can benefit the person receiving support as well as the helper.

Find opportunities to amplify the voices, positive stories, and positive images of local people who have experienced the new coronavirus and have recovered or who have supported a loved one through recovery and are willing to share their experience.

Honor caretakers and healthcare workers supporting people affected with COVID-19 in your community. Acknowledge the role they play to save lives and keep your loved ones safe.

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Recommendations for isolation
Stay connected and maintain your social networks. Even in isolation, try as much as possible to keep your personal daily routines. If health authorities have recommended limiting your physical social contact to contain the outbreak, you can stay connected via e-mail, social media, video conference, and telephone.

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 a regular sleep routine, and eat healthy food. Keep things in perspective.

Recommendations for caretakers of children
Help children find positive ways to express disturbing feelings such as fear and sadness. Every child has their own way to express emotions. Sometimes engaging in a creative activity, such as playing, and drawing can facilitate this process. Children feel relieved if they can express and communicate their disturbing feelings in a safe and supportive environment.

Keep children close to their parents and family, if considered safe for the child, and avoid separating children and their caregivers as much as possible. If a child needs to be separated from their primary caregiver, ensure that appropriate alternative care is given and that a social worker, or equivalent, will regularly follow up on the child. Further, ensure that during periods of separation, regular contact with parents and caregivers is maintained, such as twice-daily scheduled phone or video calls or other age-appropriate communication.

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Maintain familiar routines in daily life as much as possible, especially if children are confined at home. Provide engaging age-appropriate activities for children and encourage them to continue playing and socializing with others, even if only within the family when advised to restrict social contact.

During times of stress and crisis, it is common for children to seek more attachment and be more demanding on parents. Discuss the pandemic with your children in honest and age-appropriate information. If your children have concerns, addressing those together may ease their anxiety. Children will observe adults’ behaviors and emotions for cues on how to manage their own emotions during difficult times.

Recommendations for caretakers of older adults
Older adults, especially in isolation and those with cognitive decline or dementia, may become more anxious, angry, stressed, agitated, and withdrawn during the outbreak and while in quarantine. Provide practical and emotional support through informal networks (families) and health professionals.

Share simple facts about what is going on and give clear information about how to reduce the risk of infection in words older people with or without cognitive impairment can understand. Repeat the information whenever necessary. Instructions need to be communicated in a clear, concise, respectful, and patient way. It may also be helpful for information to be displayed in writing or pictures. Engage their family and other support networks in providing information and helping them practice prevention measures.

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Encourage older adults with expertise, experiences, and strengths to volunteer in community efforts to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. For example, the healthy retired older population can provide peer support, neighbor checking, and childcare for medical personnel restricted in hospitals fighting against COVID-19.

Recommendations for health workers
Feeling stressed is an experience that many health workers are likely going through; in fact, it is quite normal to be feeling this way in the current situation. Stress and the feelings associated with it are by no means a reflection that you cannot do your job or that you are weak. Managing your stress and psychosocial well-being during this time is as important as managing your physical health.

Take care of your basic needs and employ helpful coping strategies. Ensure rest and respite during work or between shifts, eat sufficient and healthy food, engage in physical activity, and stay in contact with family and friends. Avoid using unhelpful coping strategies such as tobacco, alcohol or other drugs. In the long term, these can worsen your mental and physical wellbeing. Using the strategies that you have used in the past to manage times of stress can benefit you now even if the scenario is different.

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Unfortunately, some workers may experience avoidance by their family or community due to stigma or fear. This can make an already challenging situation far more difficult. If possible, staying connected with your loved ones through digital methods is one way to maintain contact. Turn to your colleagues, your manager or other trusted persons for social support.

Use understandable ways to share messages with people with intellectual, cognitive, and psychosocial disabilities. Forms of communication that do not rely solely on written information are recommended.

Recommendations for team leaders or managers in health facilities
Keeping all staff protected from chronic stress and poor mental health during this response means that they will have a better capacity to fulfill their roles.

Ensure good quality communication and accurate information updates are provided to all staff. Rotate workers from high-stress to lower-stress functions. Partner inexperienced workers with their more experienced colleagues. The buddy system helps to provide support, monitor stress, and reinforce safety procedures. Ensure that outreach personnel enters the community in pairs. Initiate, encourage, and monitor work breaks. Implement flexible schedules for workers who are directly impacted or have a family member impacted by a stressful event.

Facilitate access to, and ensure staff are aware of where they can access mental health and psychosocial support services. Managers and team leaders are also facing similar stressors as their staff, and potentially additional pressure in the level of responsibility of their role. It is important that the above provisions and strategies are in place for both workers and managers, and that managers are able to role-model self-care strategies to mitigate stress.

Orient responders, including nurses, ambulance drivers, volunteers, case identifiers, teachers, and community leaders and workers in quarantine sites, on how to provide basic emotional and practical support to affected people using psychological first aid.

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