How to manage mental health post COVID-19?

by | What We're Talking About

We have all probably felt quite powerless during the pandemic. Both anxiety and depression have significantly increased. If a person had a depression or an anxiety disorder coming into 2020, then that was really going to put them at higher risk for having a difficult time through the pandemic and coming out.

Global statistics which appeared in the Lancet journal recently suggest that there is about a 28% increase in new cases of depression, and a 25% increase in new cases of anxiety, related to all the stress and worry that we’ve had to endure by being part of this global pandemic.

In Australia, the Australian Psychological Society (APS) recently reported that 88% of psychologists have seen an increase in demand for services since the beginning of the pandemic. The APS also reports that 1 in 3 psychologists are unable to see new clients due to overwhelming demand.

So, what are some practical things people in this circumstance can do to overcome these feelings?

Dr Norman Swan recently spoke with Frances Kay-Lambkin, Professor of Psychology at the University of Newcastle who shared her expert advice.

When people may need help

“We’ve been living in this fight or flight state for a couple of years now and we really have to take a bit of time to help our bodies and minds learn to become unafraid, and also learn again that we don’t need to be afraid in the circumstances that we had to be afraid in last year and potentially the year before. It will take some time and be a little uncomfortable for people to go through while they get used to being back out there in the world.

“People need to shift or transition from living in the pandemic and its associated worry, to living with it, because of course, all the risk won’t go away and that’s one of the other issues we need to be mindful of.

“Fears and symptoms occur on a spectrum. And the things that we worry about in our profession is if that combination of symptoms are affecting people for most of the day for most days of a week for at least a month or more, and are stopping them from being able to do the things that they want or have to do, then that’s when it becomes more of an issue and they need some external help around.”

Here are some useful tips: –

Talk about your feelings

The person should talk about their feelings and worries out aloud to a medical professional, or with a family member or friend.

Don’t avoid your feelings

Avoidance feeds anxieties and worries and it’s important that through a little exposure that the person can build in some safe experiences outside of the house that can really help them build their confidence about re-emerging into society again.

Flatten your fear with facts

Obtain information from trusted sources such as your medical practitioner.

Go at your own pace

The person will need to go at their own pace in order to emerge and start redoing the things that they stopped doing.

Slowly expose and transition

The gold standard therapy in anxiety disorders is called exposure therapy, where a person makes a list of the things that they are concerned or worried about, and builds a hierarchy of things starting with what they are most comfortable with, and then builds up a list that might increase their discomfort a bit. They should set boundaries or some limits about the events or the things they are more or less comfortable with.

They should step outside of their comfort zone and emerge gradually, to do a few things that expose them to the situations that they are little fearful of. This will provide information and evidence that those situations can occur, and they can do them without something catastrophic happening at the end.  They can build in a few more new actions each week and seek support from friends and family if needed.

Dealing with uncertainty moving forward

We must all understand that we can’t be certain about everything all the time, and that’s just as true of coronavirus as it is of other things in life.

There are many actions we can take to reduce the risk to ourselves, and there are also some things that we can do to create some certainty and get some control back into our lives, and that is irrespective of what government restrictions are put in place.

For instance, many people have developed the habit of keeping up to date with the latest coronavirus information. Perhaps on a couple of days in a week they take a break from watching and reading the news or accessing social media. This is one example of how we can create our own little bubble of certainty in a very uncertain period.

Resources/Further Information

For more information about anxiety – especially related to the pandemic – depression, managing stress, alcohol use, etc. – or if you would like support for someone you care about, Professor Frances Kay-Lambkin has kindly provided some resources for your consideration:
This digital gateway provides 24/7 access to evidence-based psychological treatment programs for mood, anxiety, alcohol misuse, and related concerns. It is supported by the NSW Ministry of Health, beyondblue, and the University of Newcastle. It is free to access, safe and private, and can link people with clinicians in real time or via our eCliPSE breathing space community where they can also connect with others and share their stories or challenges.
This is a digital portal that provides 24/7 access to programs to help families and friends with a loved one who is experiencing trauma, alcohol/other drug use, and related concerns. A FFSP virtual community is available to connect with others in your situation, and with clinicians who can help answer questions and direct concerns. This is supported by the Federal Government.
The Federal Government’s HeadtoHealth website can also provide information about both digital and in-person supports for people experiencing worry, anxiety, stress, depression, and related concerns. Here you will find links to beyondblue, Black Dog Institute, and a range of first-class tools and information.

If someone is in crisis, and needs urgent support, contact Lifeline 131114, Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800, or the Suicide Callback Service on 1300 659 467 are.

Please call 000 if you are in immediate danger.