Looking after mental health in COVID-19 is essential, experts say

Erin Sawyer, a vocational counsellor at Ontario Shores Mental Health Sciences.

When the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the COVID-19 global pandemic, many communities decided one way to stop the spread was through lockdowns. This included the province of Ontario, which has issued several stay-at-home orders since March 2020.

As a result, experts say many people’s mental health has suffered.

According to Statistics Canada, less than half, or 40 per cent, of 15 to 24-year-olds reported excellent or very good mental health in July 2020, down from 60 per cent prior to the pandemic.

Dan Blomme, a professor in addictions and health at Durham College (DC), said people’s emotions depend on them and their personal experience.

“For example, married people who have children at home, maybe they have mild psychological effects like sort of mild irritation and frustration from having their worlds smaller,” he said.

However, he said some people may feel their mental health has improved during the lockdown. 

“Some people with depression and anxiety tend to be in avoidance of the actual situation. They tend not to go out and tend not to take risks,” said Blomme. “However, now, going out and taking risks is something that they have to do.” 

This new reality involves stress and uncertainty, which demandspeople find strategies to cope with the COVID-19 situations, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Erin Sawyer, a vocational counsellor at Ontario Shores Mental Health Sciences, offers advice about how to practice wellness daily.

“I think one thing we very much promote or encourage people to do is just to take care of yourself,” she says, “and recognizing that none of us have experienced any of this before.”

She recommends going for a walk now that it’s getting nicer out and connecting with family and friends.

As well, Sawyer recommends people find help to improve their quality of life when they feel overwhelmed.

“If you are struggling, reach out and get help, either formally or informally, like through counselling,” she said.

For some people, that struggle could come after losing a family member or a close friend to COVID-19.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, emotional reactions could include shock, anxiety, or guilt.

There have been more than 122 million COVID-19 cases worldwide, killing 2.7 million people, including more than 23,000 Canadians.

Keir Young, a Durham College mental health nurse, said it is fundamental to be a supportive person and respect the moment of mourning. 

 “It will be OK with not having to give advice or not have a solution. Grief is a fluid process,” she said.

According to Young, it is important to bepatient and contact a bereaved person through messages to see how they are doing. Let them know that you are there and thinking about them.

“Do not push people into what you feel. You have to be mindful that everybody acts differently and at their own pace,” she said.

Durham College offers professional support to students during this period.  For more information, call 905.721.3037 or email chwc@durhamcollege.ca