I am currently sitting at home waiting for President Ramaphosa to update our nation around #COVID19 in South Africa.
It has been a very weird week since the first announcement that we as a nation were going to be implementing measures commensurate with the Disaster Management Act. In the wake of that, it doesn’t take a Psychiatrist to diagnose anxiety in the population at large!
The problem here is that we are not actually dealing with one global viral pandemic. We are dealing with two and if we don’t get a handle on them and quickly, we are shortly likely to be facing a third: suicide and attempted suicide.
Our first pandemic is that of the physical virus. Corona virus/ COVID19 or SARS-CoV-2, detected initially in Wuhan China in December 2019, but which as I write this has spread globally to infect more than 300 000 people and has caused the deaths of 13 000+ people worldwide.
The second viral pandemic that I have referred to is the one which is happening in the media space. Info, panic and speculation on COVID19 has gone viral. It is extremely difficult to weed out fact from fiction on any media platform. This is fuelling my anxiety and I am certain that it is escalating everyone else’s anxiety exponentially.
With social isolation, quarantine, escalating infection rates, economic effects, financial constraints, fake news and real new increasing daily, anxiety and depression are likely to soar as well. This brings with it an almost inevitable increase the risk of suicidal ideation and attempts.
The second pandemic is a double edged sword. Being socially isolated either alone or with your family/ roommates can be extremely distressing particularly with access to too much information (both real and fake) via media. On the other hand, contact via media platforms such as zoom/ skype/ facetime are absolutely necessary to limit feelings of complete isolation and resultant despair.
Our future at global and national levels is in a state of flux and as we anticipate an impending lockdown in the next few days or weeks, these would be my suggestions for supporting mental health in this trying time:
1. Ensure that you practice absolutely ALL of the recommended sanitisation procedures in every public and private space. To what end you may ask? Well my suggestion would be that if you or any of your loved ones were ever to contract COVID19 you should be able to say, “I did EVERYTHING in my power to prevent this.”
2. If you are still working, ensure that your employer/ employees are taking all necessary precautions. You have a right to a safe and healthy working environment under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. You also have professional, ethical and moral responsibilities as a citizen of the world, so again my advice would be that you need to be 100% confident that you have done everything possible in your professional environment as well.
3. Have a set routine to keep things structured even if in isolation. There should be set times for exercising, work/ academics/ media contact/ social interactions at home, reading, chores etc. Set routines will keep predictability and help to create a feeling of predictability even in very unpredictable times.
4. Ensure that everyone (unless they are showing symptoms or are at very high risk) do some form of physical exercise every day. My personal routine since I haven’t been able to go to the gym, includes a 30-minute HIIT session every morning. For something like a HIIT session you don’t need any equipment other than your body weight and a clock/ stopwatch or timer of some sort.
5. Continue healthy eating and sleep practices. This isn’t an excuse to neglect your physical health, in fact on the contrary you should be more mindful of physical health right now.
6. If you are taking any medication for any kind of mental illness you should continue these unless you have discussed otherwise with your treating doctor.
7. Suicidality is a medical emergency!! If you are having suicidal thoughts, please reach out. Call a suicide hotline, speak to your psychiatrist or psychologist or contact an emergency department.
Many psychiatrists and psychologists are going to be offering online consultations during this difficult time, so please contact us to find out what for a we are using and how you can access these services should you require them.
Please feel free to get in contact with me via my website if you need to. Stay safe and watch this space…