Mental Health Awareness: Impact Of Covid-19 On Mental Wellness

By Mosh Matsena

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated mental health difficulties exponentially worldwide. According to a scientific brief released by the World Health Organization (WHO) earlier this year, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a massive 25% in the first year of the pandemic alone. 

While the focus on mental health has been steadily increasing over the years, with some progress being made when it comes to removing the stigmas around it, there needs to be far more intensive and open conversations around mental and emotional well-being. This is particularly around key times such as the release of Matric / final senior examination results, or even family holidays periods, as these can trigger negative thoughts and feelings for many. That being said, mental wellness is a year-round concern that needs to be addressed with sensitivity and understanding.  

In some cases, the global crisis was the root cause of distress (for example, due to job losses experienced), while in other cases, it amplified existing emotional struggles (such as increased loneliness due to lock-downs and isolation periods). Many people felt overwhelmed by the sudden change to their living and working situations – for example, having to juggle working from home with taking care of the family (and for many, “home-schooling” their kids). 

Students as well had to navigate trying to adapt to environments that may not be conducive to learning. This included everything from being in noisy surroundings, to not having the basic resources required for virtual education demands. 

Lack of physical human social interactions and daily routines can also lead to feeling lost in general. Furthermore, the fear of contracting the often debilitating (and potentially fatal) virus has caused the majority of the global population to live in fear. Meaning that even when human interaction does happen, there is a constant state of anxiety and paranoia around it, which is more than justified given the highly communicable nature of Covid-19. 

Effects of mental stress take various forms. For some people it results in eating disorders, or being totally disconnected from life. For others, anxiety and depression can lead to substance abuse, self-harm, or even suicide. In addition to people that were already vulnerable to mental health conditions, the sheer magnitude and unexpected onset of the health pandemic has had some sort of effect on virtually every human being on the planet, including suffering the loss of loved ones. 

Supporting mental wellness – both your own, and that of those around you, starts with an awareness of the signs of mental and emotional health issues. It also means taking action when you see or sense that there may be a problem. Community Reach Center suggests some ways you can raise awareness and provide support when it comes to the mental health concerns. These include: 

  • Asking people how they are doing, and really listening to their answers. If there is an indication that they may be stressed or depressed, let them know that there are people and resources available to help them. If it is more serious issue and you think they may harm themselves, assist them in getting immediate professional help
  • If you feel comfortable to do so, share your own experience when it comes to mental illnesses or challenges. If people feel that you can relate and understand their situation, they are generally more willing to share their stories
  • Be kind. Not just to someone you feel may have mental health issues, but to everyone you meet. The truth is, you never know what personal difficulties may be hidden behind a smile, or what a person may be going through in their lives
  • Educate yourself and others on mental illness. This includes children – they may be observing or experiencing situations they don’t know how to deal with, and this can be very overwhelming. Talk to them in an age-appropriate way, or enlist the help of someone trained to work with children
  • Help remove the stigma of mental illness by planning and/or participating in mental health awareness events and programmes at work, in your community, via social media platforms, and so forth. The more we talk openly about mental health issues, the more it encourages people to speak out about struggles they may be experiencing
  • Understand the link between physical and emotional wellness, and improved mental health. Factors such as healthy eating habits, regular exercise, supportive social interactions, a positive work environment and getting enough sleep have a direct beneficial impact on mental health

Although in many ways we are starting to go back to “normal” life, the truth is that we are still in a state of uncertainty when it comes to what the future holds. One of the positive effects of the pandemic is that many people have a heightened appreciation for life, for their family and friends, and for their communities. Let us harness this positive spirit and help support those around us.  You will find that often even the smallest gestures can have a huge impact, all it takes is a little kindness and care. 

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