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Mental health under Alert Level 4

By Jaymie L. White Special to the Appalachian

STEPHENVILLE – With the significant spike in COVID-19 cases in the province, Newfoundland and Labrador moved into Alert Level 4 on Jan. 3. Additional restrictions and lockdowns can create more of a stress on individuals which will have an overall negative impact on their mental wellbeing. Mary King, Program Coordinator for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) NL – Western Region said physical health is normally thought of as the primary component of staying healthy, but mental health is just as important.

“Our mental health is much more of a concern than our physical in the aspect of maintaining that healthy well-being. Our mental health has to be in a very stable, consistent spot to be able to do that for us.”

King believes it is vital to keep your mental health in top notch shape to be able to sustain the healthy lifestyle you are accustomed to when restrictions aren’t in place.

“When we have a mental health decline, all things in our life tend to decline along with it, which then makes things even harder to be okay.”

King said the pandemic has caused a lot of grief and havoc for people because of unexpected unemployment that can leave some struggling to make ends meet, on top of the decline in socialization.

“Humans are naturally social, so when we’ve been put in isolation with so many restrictions, it’s hard to be away from family under normal circumstances and being able to touch base with people and connect with people regularly. Now that COVID has hit, it’s restricted us again. We are limited on who we are allowed to see and where we are allowed to go, so we need to make sure we still can touch base with those individuals. We still can be social with them. We just have to be safe about it.”

When people hear the word ‘lockdown,’ it’s only natural to immediately think of the danger that represents or the restrictions that will inevitably be in place.

“Those words in itself are making people more fearful that now we are in a dangerous zone. The situation we are in is extremely unpredictable. It is dangerous because there are individuals who are vulnerable to this virus, but it’s that restriction that makes us feel we are unable to do things even if we are still able to.”

For some individuals, lockdown can leave them isolated from the supports and services that were much easier to access before the restrictions were implemented.

“When we do have a Level 4 or get in a lockdown, there are ways we can still cope and manage for ourselves as well as helping others through this hard time. Making sure you do the simple things for yourself, whether they are in the house or even just going for a walk. When going for a walk, drop in and check on someone. Walk by their house. Leave a card in the mail. Those little messages of hope, these enduring activities can help your mental health and spread that kindness to others as well.”

It is important that people still try to reach out to the community supports and services, as well as friends and family or even co-workers.

“In Stephenville we have an amazing group of supports and services that come from all ranges that can really help an individual if they need extra support. There are online workshops people can access. If accessibility to technology is a barrier, we can look at ways to help in that aspect to help keep them connected. When we talk to other people, that’s one of the most important strategies we can use to maintain a healthy mental well-being.”

Despite all the hardships that COVID has caused, it has also brought people into a situation where they can reconnect with certain things and people.

“We can do things online now. As much as some of us would enjoy having physical contact, we still can continue to have social gatherings virtually. This is going to be difficult for certain vulnerable populations for sure, so we are going to have to think outside the box to see how we are going to keep within our restrictions while still connecting with them.”

King wants to see the end of stigma associated with mental health, as they produce barriers.

“Mental health is something every individual has and we need to be able to make sure it is maintained. Sharing experiences with others is a great way to help people understand it’s okay to not be okay. We all need to lead a healthy, balanced life and mental health is one of the balances that need to be maintained. COVID is definitely going to make a lot of individuals feel alone, so making sure you are vocal about it and sharing your experiences can enlighten others to help and share too.”

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