Confined to your residence, stuck in close quarters with family members that quickly get on your nerves, starting to re-watch shows on Netflix because you’ve watched them all twice already…
Or maybe you or a family member are working for an essential business and must face the public each day. Maybe you’re studying for exams and writing essays, thankful for the unexpected extra time you got.
No matter what your situation during the quarantine may be, all of us struggle with our mental health. And issues with mental health have become exacerbated as indefinitely long bouts of boredom, loneliness, uncertainty, and financial difficulty have presented themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Loneliness has the capacity to fray people, and can provoke feelings like anxiety and depression”, said Mark Sinyor, a psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto.
Daily routines of people around the world have shifted almost overnight, and self-isolation can especially affect those already suffering from mental health issues, notably from thoughts of suicide.
Mark Sinyor argues that there is a feeling of collective purpose in this situation.
“One of the key issues in mental health, and in suicide specifically, is a feeling that one doesn’t belong… These kinds of global catastrophes and emergencies can foster meaning and belonging,” He said.
Speaking to the concept of collective purpose, Sinyor said: “By all the efforts we’re making, we’re protecting hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Canadians from death. In that way, all the efforts are really very meaningful.”
Despite how uncertain and how bleak this situation can get at times, it is a comforting thought that all Canadians and people around the world have a shared experience.
Social interaction is generally prescribed as part of one’s mental health treatment. With social distancing though, traditional human to human contact is not possible.
Sinyor said that online communication, especially video calls where you can see another person’s face, are powerful tools. He has even employed them as strategies with his patients.
To Sinyor, mitigating the negative mental health effects of the pandemic comes down to a number of things, including staying connected, maintaining mental health care, encouraging healthy coping strategies, and ensuring people have accurate information about the outbreak.
Furthermore, according to studies on mental health and resilience conducted after the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York, it was shown that the participants with higher resilience reported experiencing more positive emotions, like love and gratitude, than their less resilient counterparts.
Some people are naturally more resilient than others when it comes to facing adversity, but there are frames of mind that may help cultivate better resilience. Coined by Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, tragic optimism means being able to maintain hope and the ability to find meaning in life despite horrible pain and suffering.
It is often given as advice to those suffering from mental health problems to do what makes you happy, like playing games, exercising or reading. These do help temporarily, and are great mood boosters, but will not solve much long-term.
Frankl argues that “happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy.’”
Therefore, during this pandemic, it might be a better approach to acknowledge what is happening and to stay up to date on the situation, but not to wallow in these thoughts. It would be best to instead search for the positives, to try to learn from this experience, and to practice gratitude.
People who seek meaning through activities like work and volunteering report feeling more enriched, inspired, and part of something bigger than themselves.
For example, we can see during this pandemic that people have become more grateful towards health care professionals, caregivers, and other service workers. Many have started volunteering in places that are understaffed, like food banks and blood banks.
There are stories of citizens performing acts of kindness for their communities, like hosting a socially distanced Zumba class outside or playing music for the elderly outside of their nursing home.
We’ve seen companies donating money to relief funds and manufacturing vital equipment like ventilators and hand sanitizer. Community organizations have shifted many of their activities online, and participants can join via video calls.
People are connecting with friends and family more than ever during this time, strengthening social bonds digitally.
Many have become more conscientious about their capacity to spread the virus to others and have taken personal measures like social distancing to limit the spread. There have been rainbows popping up all over Quebec in windows of homes and businesses with the message “Ça va bien aller”, encouraging us to maintain optimism and all social distancing protocol for the safety of everyone.
This ties back to seeing collective purpose during this crisis. We must all work together towards the “flattening of the curve” in order to make this pandemic run its course as smoothly as possible.
Maintaining mental health can be difficult during the pandemic, but here are some main points to keep in mind:
– Stay connected to friends and family as much as possible (safely!) through the internet, and video call if possible.
– Try your best to cultivate a mindset of searching for meaning and positivity rather than happiness alone during self-isolation. Practice gratitude.
– Keep up to date on COVID-19 information from reliable sources like the Government of Canada’s website, the World Health Organization, and the Center for Disease Control. Vanier has an FAQ here to ease some worries you may have about access to the college, R-Score or stages, among many other things.
– There are financial relief efforts available through either your workplace, school or the government. Here is Vanier’s financial aid information and the Government of Canada’s Emergency Response Benefit.
– Volunteer if you can! Many organizations are in dire need, and if you are healthy and able, do consider it. You can find more information on the STAR website here or by contacting Kristen Whitelaw via Mio.
– Vanier still has mental health and other services offered through Student Services. You can check them out here. They have also compiled some helpful tips and resources for maintaining mental health during the quarantine, click here to read that. Unicef also compiled a helpful list of tips to protect mental health during these times, click here to read that.
– Mental health emergencies should always be directed towards 911. But you can also call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868, or visit the Depression Hurts or The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention websites for more resources.
Wishing you all the best, and to stay safe during these tough times.
By India-Lynn Upshaw-Ruffner