That’s right. Your mental health matters too. Like many of you, I have been watching the updates regarding COVID-19 and adhering to the precautions that have been recommended by our government departments. I believe in “flattening the curve”. I believe that our diligence now will potentially avoid a catastrophic event like we are witnessing in other parts of the world. I support the cancellations of large public events and gatherings to try to reduce the potential impact of a number of citizens being affected at one time.
However, I am also growing concerned that our current situation will reaffirm the false belief that tending to our physical health is more important than our mental health. As we are becoming increasingly aware, COVID-19 is a virus that can kill, especially the most vulnerable people in our society like older adults or people with other health related issues. It is our responsibility to try to reduce the impact of this virus on this part of the population. Not to mention, the benefit of generally slowing the spread of the virus amongst the rest of us.
But what about those who are struggling to manage a mental illness? Mental illness can kill too. Living with mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress takes a tremendous amount of effort to maintain day-to-day function. And so much of what we recommended as therapists – social connections, routine, recreational activities – are being impacted in order to prevent the spread of the virus.
Again, I agree with the interventions and think we need to exercise diligence in doing our part to protect society’s most physically vulnerable citizens. However, I also believe that for some of us – and I think any of us could experience some impairment of our mental health function as we manage the stress of the days, weeks and maybe months ahead – protecting our mental wellness will be just as important as protecting our physical health.
While we are warding off this virus, we also need to focus on supporting another part of our society’s most vulnerable, those who are struggling to manage their mental health during this global pandemic. The challenge is that this portion of the population won’t be as easily identified through testing with a swab and sending it to a lab to confirm their potential impact.
I have already prepared for potential cancellations of my therapy clients this week by offering telephone or video sessions. However, I also know that for many of my clients the opportunity to sit with me in a safe space where we can engage in a face-to-face relationship is an important to them. Even if the risk is perceived is low, we will all have to make decisions between protecting our physical health or maintaining our mental health function. Human connection is essential to survival so virus or no virus, we need to ensure that we are staying connected as fellow human beings – whether that is through telephone calls, texts of concern or sharing words of kindness and appreciation.
So as we move into these weeks and months ahead, do not feel ashamed if you need to take steps to protect your mental health. This is just as important as protecting your physical health. Reach out to friends and family, develop a routine and participate in whatever activities you feel you can safely manage for both your physical and mental health needs.
But do not isolate yourself from others. This is not what this should be about. If you are experiencing difficulty coping and need immediate support please contact your local mental health crisis lines. In New Brunswick, you can contact CHIMO at 1-800-667-5005 anytime of day or night.