By Mosh Matsena
The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated mental health challenges exponentially around the world. According to a scientific note published by the World Health Organization (WHO) earlier this year, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25% in the first year of the pandemic alone.
While the focus on mental health has steadily increased over the years, with progress being made in breaking down the stigma around it, there needs to be much more intensive conversations and open to mental and emotional well-being. This especially relates to key times such as the release of matric/final exam results, or even family holiday periods, as these can trigger negative thoughts and feelings for many. That being said, mental well-being is a year-round concern that must be approached with sensitivity and understanding.
In some cases, the global crisis was the root cause of the distress (for example, due to job losses suffered), while in other cases it amplified existing emotional struggles (such as increased loneliness due during periods of confinement and isolation). Many people felt overwhelmed by the sudden change in their living and working circumstances – for example, having to juggle working from home and caring for family (and for many, “homeschooling” their children ).
Students also had to navigate trying to adapt to environments that may not be conducive to learning. This included everything from being in a noisy environment to not having the basic resources required for virtual education demands.
The lack of physical human social interactions and daily routines can also lead to a sense of loss in general. Additionally, the fear of contracting the often debilitating (and life-threatening) virus has caused the majority of the world’s population to live in fear. This means that even when human interaction occurs, there is a constant state of anxiety and paranoia surrounding it, which is more than justified given the highly transmissible nature of Covid-19.
The effects of mental stress take many forms. For some people, this results in eating disorders or a total disconnection from life. For others, anxiety and depression can lead to substance abuse, self-harm or even suicide. In addition to people already vulnerable to mental health issues, the magnitude and unexpected onset of the health pandemic has had some kind of effect on virtually every human being on the planet, including the loss of loved ones. .
Supporting mental well-being – both your own and that of those around you, starts with being aware of the signs of mental and emotional health issues. It also means taking action when you see or feel there may be a problem. The Community Reach Center offers ways to raise awareness and provide support regarding mental health issues. These include:
- Ask people how they are, and really listen to their responses. If there is any indication that they may be stressed or depressed, let them know that there are people and resources available to help them. If it’s a more serious problem and you think they could harm themselves, help them get immediate professional help.
- If you feel comfortable doing so, share your own experience with illnesses or mental challenges. If people feel you can relate and understand their situation, they are usually more willing to share their stories.
- Be kind. Not just someone you think might have mental health issues, but everyone you meet. The truth is, you never know what personal difficulties may be hidden behind a smile, or what a person may be going through in their life.
- Educate yourself and others about mental illness. This includes children – they may observe or experience situations that they don’t know how to handle, and it can be very overwhelming. Speak to them in an age-appropriate manner or seek help from someone trained to work with children
- Help eliminate the stigma of mental illness by planning and/or participating in mental health awareness events and programs at work, in your community, through social media platforms, etc. The more openly we talk about mental health issues, the more it encourages people to talk about the difficulties they may be facing
- Understand the link between physical and emotional well-being and improved mental health. Factors such as healthy eating habits, regular exercise, positive social interactions, a positive work environment, and adequate sleep have a direct beneficial impact on mental health.
Although in many ways we are beginning to return to “normal” life, the truth is that we are still in a state of uncertainty about what the future holds. One of the positive effects of the pandemic is that many people have a greater appreciation for life, their family and friends, and their community. Let’s tap into that positive spirit and help support those around us. You will find that often even the smallest gestures can have a huge impact, all it takes is a little kindness and attention.