Navigating mental health in the era of the novel coronavirus 2019

By Mike Renzella

The Haldimand Press

HALDIMAND—Nearly everything about our daily lives has changed recently. Such rapid change, combined with uncertainty about how long this situation might last, can have a negative impact on mental health and well-being for people across a vast range of ages and cultural differences.

“I think it may be helpful to frame this as a grief response that people are feeling…. Missing family, friends, co-workers, missing the business, missing the chatter, missing the job, missing the role that you have identified with most of your day…. We forget sometimes how important these things are in defining who we are to ourselves and to others,” said Nancy Candy-Harding, Chief Executive Officer at Community Addiction and Mental Health Services of Haldimand & Norfolk (CAMHS). “And then there is that fact that we will probably grieve the death of someone we know as a result of COVID-19 or grieve with someone who has lost a family member or friend. Grieving for any of these things is an honourable and important act of respect of others and respect of ourselves.”

There are multiple stressors during a time like this that can affect a person’s mental health, including employment instability, food insecurity, overwhelming bad news, and social isolation. Candy-Harding shared some tips for processing these feelings.

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“As with all grief, mental wellness requires the acknowledgement of the loss. Easy to say, but not always easy to do,” said Candy-Harding. On things that could help, she said, “Sharing stories, especially humourous ones, sharing or listening to music, or singing and dancing, mindful activities like a walk in the woods or sitting quietly in a backyard, reflecting on the loss through conversation or journaling. It is important to stay connected with others.”

“What opportunity does this time present?” asked Candy-Harding. “Are there three things/people that you can identify each day that you are thankful for? Can you find a task that has a short-term goal that you can set your mind to: teach your child to ride a bike, to get your dog to lie down with a hand signal, to finish a jigsaw puzzle, to clean all your closets/cupboards, to reorganize your garden, to start an online course… to make use of this time because it too will pass.”

In addition to the challenges that many are all dealing with, the senior community faces a higher risk of developing serious conditions if they contract COVID-19. Leila Thompson, Program Director for Haldimand Community Senior Support Services, spoke about how local seniors can reach out during these times.

“Telephone reassurance is an important program offered by Senior Support every day, but especially so during the pandemic,” said Thompson. The calls are made as required by volunteers who have been thoroughly vetted. “I have seen some very positive telephone relationships formed over the years where the client and volunteer become great friends over the phone. It really does brighten the day for a senior when they get their call and the volunteers look forward to reaching out as well.”

“Many of my senior clients have been through a lot in their lives, but most that I have talked to recently have never seen anything like this, even during war time. It can be overwhelming to hear constant news stories about how the pandemic is progressing and seniors may not be worried about themselves, but they are certainly worried about their families,” explained Thompson. “If they are still able to drive and get their own supplies, they may be worried about exposure to the virus in stores…. If they can’t drive, they may worry about how to safely get what they need to see them through this time…. They may be lonely as they aren’t able to directly connect with their family face to face or to get or give a hug that says everything will be ok.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum are children, who may lack the ability to properly convey their emotional reaction to the developing pandemic. Susan Wells, Director of Child, Family, and Adult Intervention Services at Haldimand Norfolk REACH, had some advice for parents.

“Kids need information and honesty, but they also don’t need to be bombarded with the details…. Too much information can add to worry for our little ones,” said Wells. “Validate their feelings, identify their behaviour, and let them know that you’re there when they’re ready. It’s important for kids to take the lead; we can’t force them to go places they’re not ready to go.”

“The challenge for many kids is going to be doing something beyond the video games. What’s fortunate about this generation is that they’re great at staying connected. We continue to use the language ‘social distancing’, but kids continue to be social, they’re just using a different method,” added Wells.

HN REACH has a number of resources available for parents on their website and social media. In addition to ideas for activities, REACH is continuing to offer counselling services, over the phone for the time being, to their clientele with the option for video conferencing coming soon. In addition, their crisis support line is available to anyone, child or not, who might need it.

“These kids today are going to be telling their kids about this historic moment. They’ll be telling the story of what it was like to live through a COVID pandemic, so what we’re encouraging parents to consider is what kind of story do you want your kids to tell,” said Wells.

Below are some helpful resources for anyone struggling to cope with their anxiety and mental well-being during the pandemic:

  • Senior Support telephone reassurance program – Haldimand 1-800-265-2818 or Norfolk 1-866-529-0849
  • Child Clinical Therapist at Haldimand Norfolk REACH – 519-410-1502 between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Tuesdays.
  • CAMHS’ Crisis Line – 1-866-487-2278
  • CAMHS’ adult mental health and addictions services intake and counselling, telemedicine services, and specialized geriatric services – 416-535-8501 ext. 2
  • heretohelp.bc.ca/infosheet/covid-19-and-anxiety
  • camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-health-and-covid-19
  • morneaushepell.com/ca-en/tips-coping-covid-19

“I do think that this is a worrisome time. You hear me say the word worry, that’s because sometimes anxiety can make things bigger than they are, it can sound like a disorder,” summed up Wells. “Worry is normal. All kids worry, all adults worry to a degree, and part of the challenge is just getting more comfortable with our worry. If we can be comfortable with it and know that this is a normal part of life, then that is the first step to being able to learn how to manage it better.”