The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted life as we know it. From stores and restaurants closing, to government recommendations self-isolate, there’s lots of confusion and anxiety over what the future holds.
As the virus started to spread around the world, the Kid’s Help Phone noticed an uptick in youth reaching out.
“The increase over the weekend was 350 per cent higher than we have experienced before.”
“We’ve seen our text conversations double overnight,” said Shelley Richardson, Director of Development for Quebec and Atlantic Canada.
The national organization has since put out a plea for more volunteers to help deal with the influx of calls which is not expected to drop anytime soon.
“They’re scared, they’re uncertain, we’re all in that same situation. Life just isn’t normal for them and that’s being communicated to our staff regularly,” said Richardson about the youth.
But it’s not just youth. With governments recommending people practice social distancing, and self-isolate, Dr. Adriana Wilson, a psychiatrist with Inspired Living Medical says it will have an impact on people’s mental health.
“This is a time of uncertainty, and it’s a human response to have some distress and periods of overerwhelm.”
Wilson says one of the most important things will be to maintain social connections.
“We know that one of the primary sources of comfort for humans is connection,” said Wilson.
While it’s recommended that people do not physically connect, Wilson says thanks to technology there are all sorts of ways people can stay connected.
“Things like FaceTime, Skype, text or email will be absolutely essential.”
She also recommends that those stuck at home create a schedule to help create some predictability during this time of chaos and uncertainty.
Included in that schedule should be different things that will help take care of our mental health, including exercise, listening to music, connecting with others, and spending time out in nature.
Wilson says people should also find time for individual activities that people find rejuvenating, whether that’s working on a puzzle, colouring in an adult colouring book, or watching a favourite TV show.
“If the thing that really makes you happy is looking at cat videos on YouTube, then schedule time to look at cat videos on YouTube.”
“Whatever you need to feel calmer,” she said.
And while staying informed is important, Wilson says spending too much time watching news about COVID-19 or reading about the virus can be harmful, and create anxiety and stress. She says while it’s human nature to crave more information, it’s not always good for our mental health, especially because there is little we can do about the pandemic.
“If we allow ourselves to spend all of our time just paying attention to the threat signal and not having any time away from it, we’re just going to get more and more amped up,” she said.
Wilson recommends people pick two or three reliable sources, and then set time in their schedule to check those sources a couple times a day.
While some mental health clinics, including the one where Wilson works, have shut down due to health and safety concerns, many psychiatrists and psychologists are looking into options to offer sessions virtually.
There are also numerous resources available online, through organizations such as the Canadian Mental Health Association and Kids Help Phone.
Wilson says in addition to taking care of your own mental health now is also a time for communities to come together.
“So if you know that someone who lives alone in your apartment building or condo complex, or even just as a neighbor, then make sure you’re checking in with them because this can be a very isolating and difficult time,” she said.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.
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