Community members reach for various mental health pamphlets at a community suicide information night earlier this year. File Photo

Mental health and COVID-19: all aspects of health

This week’s column by Dr. Tyla Charbonneau examines the intersecting aspects of our mental health

When we think about health and healthcare, we often overlook the importance of mental health. It is the least funded aspect of our medical system, the least recognized, and the most stigmatized. And yet at least 70 per cent of visits to the doctor’s office in British Columbia have a mental health component. To protect our physical health and stop the spread of COVID-19 we need to follow the regulations set out by our health ministry and continue to practice physical distancing, hand washing, and self-isolation protocols. While doing so we also need to draw attention to the impact of fear, uncertainty, isolation, financial stress, and worry on our mental health.

We talk openly about mental health and COVID-19 in terms of self care, exercise, and being kind. Self care is good for our mental health, but it is not our mental health. Mental health by definition includes our psychological, social, and emotional wellbeing. It encompasses how we think, feel, and behave in the world. What we are not as openly talking about during this pandemic are the people with severe depression who feel hopeless and cannot get out of bed. Individuals with obsessive compulsive disorder who are regressing because the media is supporting their biggest fears. Others who are reliving traumatic events with so much terror it feels like it is happening again over and over. We also may not be aware of those who are living in abusive situations or people who have so much anxiety that they have difficulty breathing or struggle to find calm no matter what strategies they try. These are just some of the realities of people who live with mental health disorders and/or in abusive situations. The impact of this virus in our world goes far beyond the biological compromises, it is impacting the way we interact socially, our financial safety of the future, and our emotional stability. This means when we think about health, we need to acknowledge it from a holistic perspective that includes physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects.

Physical health. We are protecting our physical health in the province by flattening the curve and we need to continue to do this until we can stop the spread of this virus. Going for a walk, bike ride, gardening, attending a Zoom workout class, and consuming healthy foods also greatly impact our physical health.

Mental health. This includes talking to people about our worries, asking for help, learning strategies and tools to manage symptoms, and physical activity. It also includes stimulating our cognitive abilities outside of work with in depth conversations with our friends, reading, doing puzzles and other activities that stimulate our brains.

Emotional health. We need to name our emotions, lean in and allow ourselves to feel them, and provide ourselves comfort.

Spiritual health. Spiritual connection for some involves religion and connection to church. For others this means going out in nature, connecting to other humans, volunteering, and/or meditation or yoga practices.

If you or someone you know is in distress, please reach out for help. The emergency room is open and you can call the Canadian Mental Health Crisis Line 1-888-353-2273. Therapists in the valley are offering services via the phone or video and you can self refer to Interior Health mental health programs. If you are living in an abusive situation please reach out to the Women’s Centre, Safe Homes, or the RCMP.

The content provided in this article is for information purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you find yourself in distress, please reach out to your local physician or mental health providers in your community.

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