Mental health is the state of a person’s well-being. Everyone can experience changes in mental health the same way that people can experience changes in their physical health. Thus, just as it is important and requires effort to maintain one’s physical health, the same goes for mental health. During these trying times due to COVID-19 and with special consideration for social distancing, maintaining and exercising positive mental health has proven to be strenuous for many people. One important issue to address then, at this time, is the lack of acknowledgment concerning other people’s personal mental health.
Mental health is often considered a taboo topic. Psychologists have identified two types of stigmas which have allowed the taboo to persist for this long. The first one is called the “social stigma” which pertains to discrimination towards mental health exerted by friends, family and peers. The second one is called the “self-stigma” which consists of individuals experiencing fear and embarrassment towards their mental health and thus, disregarding it. Regardless of these stigmas, mental health is real and has been proven to affect people differently! It is ok and normal to feel negative emotions or to sometimes experience trouble in your ability to function.
COVID-19 has presented numerous challenges for individuals in terms of responding to changes and demands of life during this pandemic. COVID-19 has caused the direct and indirect increase of emotions such as anxiety, fear and stress in many people. For example, consider that, unfortunately, many people have lost their jobs and are facing financial struggles during this time. This is not only stressful for such individuals themselves, but also for their dependent family members. Additionally, many people have found themselves social distancing with disrespectful family members or roommates. This also presents a set of struggles in regards to maintaining good mental health.
I reached out on social media and asked people to share their personal stories about how COVID-19 has affected their mental health. Below are a two excerpts from the responses I got:
Noor, a 21 year old female from Markham, Ontario stated the following: “I had to move home from university early due to COVID-19. The transition of living with college friends to living with family is pretty drastic. I have two younger siblings who don’t respect my personal space at all, and my parents are constantly nagging me to help with random tasks around the house. It is hard for me to set aside time to listen to my online lectures without being disturbed by family members. I am struggling to keep up with my school work, and I have expressed this to my family. But instead of respecting my personal space and time, they constantly single me out and call me hypocritical whenever they notice me taking time for myself or not being productive. I have started feeling really hostile and depressed at home. I miss seeing my friends, and going out; at home, it is so hard for me to relax and care for myself.”
Charles, a 25 year old male from Hamilton, Ontario shared: “COVID-19 has been very stressful for me. I am an international student, so I am really missing my family at this time. I feel lonely, because most of my roommates have gone back to their hometowns. Only one of my roommates is here with me, but he is closed off and we don’t talk much. Also, he is always visiting his girlfriend, so I don’t feel safe sharing common spaces with him when I know he is not properly social distancing. I am trying to keep myself busy and I FaceTime my friends a lot, but it’s not the same. At the end of the day, I still dread how long COVID will last.”
Noor and Charles are not alone; so many people have found themselves in similar circumstances due to COVID-19. It is especially hard to practice self-care when the people around you are condescending and unsupportive, such as in Noor’s situation. Additionally, there are only so many measures that can be taken to normalize the extraneous situations we have found ourselves in. Charles is trying to stay positive and reach out to friends, but the lack of routine and structure in his life is causing him to still feel lost and lonely.
Charles and Noor’s stories show us that mental health is not about living your life in survival mode. It is about finding a sense of purpose and thriving. It is OK to feel emotional highs and lows; taking care of your mental health means managing your range of emotions and feelings. It is important to understand that you are not alone. People all over the world can relate to your feelings; working towards good mental health sometimes requires support from others. In regards to Noor, and others who feel the same, it is important to approach your problems in a realistic manner.
A lot of times, a situation can seem overwhelming, but once you identify the actual problem, it is easier to communicate and cope with the situation. Attempt to communicate boundaries with housemates to allow for respect of personal space and time. For Charles case, and people who can relate, if you are feeling anxious or lonely, try to call a friend who can listen to you. It is helpful to vent out your emotions and to share stresses with others.
Additionally, it is a good idea to take time away from electronics and engage in healthy physical activity. This can help release stress and refocus energy in a healthier way. It can also be very helpful to create a daily routine, such that you can be familiar and comfortable with what is to come each day. Other general tips include: Try to avoid activities which cause your emotions to be heightened, such as substance abuse. It is important to stay informed, however, sometimes, too much information feeds negative thoughts. Try to find a balance between how much news you need to hear versus how much is just causing you to feel worse about the situation. Lastly, attempt creative activities such as painting and poetry, which can often act as an outlet for your emotions.