Our Mental Health and the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic: Part I
Dr Libby Artingstall & Dr Sile McDaid, Co-Founders & Directors Team Mental Health
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has described the current coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic. This reflects a worldwide spread of a new disease and a circumstance which requires us all to respond to a rapidly evolving situation quickly and effectively.1 To date, key communications have primarily related to our physical health. However, in order to navigate these extremely challenging circumstances, it is essential that we also protect our mental health.
WHO describes mental health as ‘a state of wellbeing’ where a person realises their potential and ability, can cope with ‘the normal stresses of life’, is able to work productively, and contribute to their community. Our mental health is an integral component of our health.2
COVID-19 presents us with much more than the normal pressures or stresses of everyday life. For many, it creates fear and significant stress. Fear can be a normal response when we are exposed to a perceived or actual threat. Fear is designed to keep us safe. However, when our fear response is persistently activated, our ability to function effectively and contribute to our communities may be impaired. Stress can be thought of as an adverse reaction due to undue pressure or demands placed upon us. Prolonged stress is a risk factor for mental ill health.
As the everchanging landscape of the COVID-19 public health emergency unfolds, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that in these unprecedented times, we may see a decline in the mental health of the population and a potential increase in mental health problems. As we aim to raise awareness and educate ourselves in relation to the action we must take to protect ourselves and others physically, we must not lose sight of what we can also do to protect ourselves and others mentally. In these circumstances we should aim to be flexible, reflective, adaptive, decisive, empathic, compassionate and kind. If our mental health is compromised, our ability to do this and cope is likely to be limited.
In the UK, the advice is changing on a daily basis and is likely to continue to do so. Feeling that things are out of our control can negatively impact our mental health. However, it’s important to remember that there are ways to engage in routines to provide consistency and structure, which can have a positive influence over our mental health and wellbeing. At Team Mental Health, we’ll do our best to share information with you to help you do this. It’s our aim to assist you protect and look after your own mental health and wellbeing, and the mental health and wellbeing of others, over the coming days, weeks and months.
1. World Health Organisation (2020). Rolling updates on coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Available at: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/events-as-they-happen
2. World Health Organisation (2018). Mental health: strengthening our response. Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response