Pandemic not all bad, says psychiatristSunday, August 15, 2021
BY CANDICE HAUGHTON
WHILE admitting that, anecdotally, there has been an increase in mental illnesses among Jamaicans since the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic, a psychiatrist is arguing that at least one upside to the ongoing crisis is the spotlight that is now on mental health.
Dr Maureen Irons-Morgan, speaking to the Jamaica Observer ahead the Jamaica Psychiatric Association's annual conference today, which is being held under the theme 'Mental Health in a Changing World', said the COVID-19 situation “has not been all bad”.
“We do realise that there have been a lot of opportunities. Certainly, one of the opportunities we have had is just to be more aware of mental health and aware of mental problems, and to learn more about how we can take care of our mental health,” Dr Irons-Morgan told Your Health Your Wealth in an interview last Wednesday.
She did say, however, that based on what she has seen and what she has heard from colleagues, there has definitely been an increase in mental illness.
“So, I am sure when the tally is done we can look at the statistics. It has been reported, even internationally, that there has been an increase in the anxiety disorders and depression,” Dr Irons-Morgan said.
The psychiatrist also argued that, despite people having their movements restricted as the Government continues its effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, Jamaicans have found new ways to cope in this time.
“With some coping strategies people have come up with, a lot of people have come up with new ideas, new businesses, and so on. So, on the other hand, there's been a lot of positives as well,” Dr Irons-Morgan said.
Pointing out that one of the greatest risk factors for people's mental health is the feeling of isolation, she said the public should stay connected as much as possible.
“Initially, it was very hard, and it seemed as though if you are physically isolated it means that you are cut off from everybody. But we are beginning to find that it's not necessarily so.
“One of the things that we need to let people know, because you are physically isolated it does not mean that you have to be socially isolated. So that is why we really need to put the effort in doing things that cause people to connect, and a lot has happened. If you notice, there are more online services like church services, prayer meetings, different groups are meeting online, even support groups. So physical isolation doesn't equal social isolation,” Dr Irons-Morgan insisted.
Coping with mental illness
Additionally, she advised that for people to cope with possible mental illness related to the experience of the pandemic they must first be aware of the signs and symptoms of the illnesses that are mostly associated with forced isolation or other measures implemented to curb the spread of the virus.
“People need to be aware. They need to know what anxiety feels like, what it looks like, what depression looks like, and other mental health problems. And then, taking care of your mental health is as important as taking care of physical health, so you'll want to take time to deal with some of the issues that lead to stress... We know that excessive stress can definitely put one at risk for mental health problems,” she explained.
Dr Irons-Morgan also stated that individuals should take the time to do relaxing activities that they enjoy, have supportive relationships, and take care of their physical health.
“Physical exercise is very good for mental health, because if you exercise you increase the blood supply to the brain. And, of course, avoiding some of those habits that can put your health at risk — you know, alcohol and smoking and so on,” Irons-Morgan said.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly one billion people live with a mental disorder in low-income countries, and this number is expected to increase by the time the pandemic ends. The WHO pointed out that more than 75 per cent of people with a mental illness do not receive treatment.
Also, in the latter part of 2020 WHO reported that the rates of mental disorders can double during particularly stressful times, as one in every five people affected by conflict is estimated to have a mental health condition.
However, regardless of all the negatives that come with having one's movement restricted, Dr Irons-Morgan agreed that the lockdown and restrictions are necessary to save lives.
“The lockdown is to help us control the spread of [the novel coronavirus], so that's a decision that has to be taken in the interest of everybody's health, and we know the possible negative outcome and as much as possible we try to prevent and we try to mitigate. We're helping people to take care of their mental health in this environment. We need to do what we need to do to remain well and safe and alive. If we don't do the things that we need to do to remain alive then we won't even have to consider mental health,” said Dr Irons-Morgan.
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