Protect Your Mental Health During a Pandemic. Here’s How —

Like all other aspects of our lives that are being affected by the coronavirus pandemic, we are in uncharted waters when it comes to mental healthcare in our current circumstances.

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Like all other aspects of our lives that are being affected by the coronavirus pandemic, we are in uncharted waters when it comes to mental healthcare in our current circumstances.

“A lot of anxiety is rooted in worrying about the unknown and waiting for something to happen – coronavirus is that on a macro scale.” ━ Rosie Weatherley

There is much talk in the press and social media in the Philippines about maintaining physical wellbeing during the current coronavirus crisis but less talk about maintaining mental wellbeing. 

Yesterday, I realized that I was about to run out of medication for my anxiety and panic disorder issues. Normally, I would see my psychiatrist once a month to review my wellbeing status after which he would write a month’s supply of medication (the maximum allowed here in the Philippines for restricted drugs).

Unfortunately, he had shut down his practice for the duration of the lockdown period in Manila (till April 13). I did not know this and it came as quite a shock.

This induced a mild panic attack because if I run out of the prescribed medication and am forced to stop, I run the risk of seizures or some other form of physical unpleasantness. Withdrawal can make you very, very unwell. 

Fortunately, the hospital from which he works was able to contact him and I received my prescription early this morning. Hopefully, I can find a Pharmacy that is open near my home. Yet another potential for an anxiety attack. You can see where I am going with this. These are unusual times for some of us.

Dealing with being “locked up” can be a challenge

So here we have our first challenge for people with mental health issues on prescribed medication. Medication that they must take to function properly.

I would highly recommend that these people, even if they think they might be able to last until April 13 with the number of pills they have, to immediately make contact with their doctor and get a prescription top-up (just in case we are in lockdown beyond April 13 –anything is possible).

This is especially important to those people suffering from depression and anxiety issues. The thought that you “might” run out of medication could well induce depression and anxiety attacks, making life miserable in an already uncomfortable situation.

As mentioned earlier, there are times that neither you nor your doctor have ever encountered before. So I recommend that you discuss with your doctor whether your current medication dosage or frequency should change or whether a different medication would be more applicable to deal with being “locked up”. It might well be that you will need to take a higher dosage and/or take it more often.

I have always hated it if my doctor upped my dosage or asked me to increase my usage frequency. If I could, I always favored, if at all possible, natural techniques such as visualization, breathing techniques, exercise, and sunshine. But this is a new world so we must adapt.

Here are some natural techniques to help protect your mental health in this situation:

1. Do not self medicate  

Don’t up the dosage and/or take your medication more often. Ever. This is dangerous. If you cannot contact your own doctor, make some calls to various hospitals. One of them will find someone to help.

2. Visualization 

I have found that visualization and breathing techniques really helped me with my depression and anxiety or panic issues. 

I would highly recommend a video call with your doctor or psychiatrist to review your progress with these techniques and advise you on how you might be able to enhance, alter or upgrade your efforts. The internet has many great articles on visualization and breathing that can be utilized for stress, anxiety and panic issues.

3. Exercise 

Increase your exercise! Exercise causes the release of endorphins. Endorphins are what make you feel better.

I have a small apartment in Taguig but am able to keep up my exercise regimen by moving a bits of furniture around and watching YouTube. Certainly, for depression and anxiety issues, exercise is both wonderful and essential.

4. Sunshine

When my depression was at its worst, especially when medications were causing various unpleasant side effects, I learned the amazing therapeutic powers of sunshine. 

It is simply amazing! Go outside! Stand/walk in the sun. There is a reason depression goes up in populations living in the far north of the northern hemisphere when daytime only spans a few hours during winter. We need sunshine. It makes us relax. It makes us happy.

5. Don’t feel alone

Being alone is dreadful for people with depression. The imagination runs riot and one can easily catastrophize situations, a situation whereby your mind expects the very worse to happen any minute.

Catastrophizing is a very big and real deal, especially at night when you feel alone, and everything is dark.

What you should do: Put on the lights. Call someone. Remind yourself that you have been here before and that your mind is playing tricks. Work with your doctor or check out articles about mantras that you can repeat to yourself to calm your thoughts. Yes, mantras do work!

6. Call your real friend(s)

Do video calls or chat with friends. Chat. Use Whatsapp. Become a social animal from the confines of your home. 

And with your “real” friends do share your experiences and fears. In our current situation, people with depression and anxiety need people to whom they can open up. 

It is not weak to need a shoulder to cry on. This requires strength and character and maturity.

If you have no friends who you trust to do this, then please contact me. I will listen and try to help to the extent that I can.

Very few companies put in place mental health programs

Many companies recognize the value of keeping employees physically healthy, happy, and productive. They have programs that encourage physical wellbeing. But very few have put in place programs that help with mental health. 

One of the things that can be done is having an anonymous company-sponsored hotline for employees with mental health issues. There are organizations around the world that provide advice to folks with mental health issues.

Your organization can subscribe to them thus allowing all company employees to call anytime and anonymously for help and advice. I would highly encourage you to talk to your HR department/your manager to explore this option.

Yes, it costs the company some money but it is a wise investment that can easily be justified given the number of employees who take days off because they are mentally unwell (although sadly, because of societal acceptance issues, they will probably claim a physical rather than a mental ailment).

What else can companies, health professionals, friends do to help those with mental health issues during the coronavirus lockdown period here in the Philippines?

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