How should we deal with pandemic-induced mental health problems?
Updated 18:11, 17-May-2020
Charlotte Wiseman

Editor's note: As the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global economy and upended people's lives around the world, it has induced significant mental health problems. Charlotte Wiseman, a well-being and leadership consultant and member of the British Psychological Society, talks to CGTN about how people need to deal with these mental health problems. Opinions expressed by Wiseman in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of CGTN.

CGTN: What kind of mental health problems has the COVID-19 pandemic triggered?

Wiseman: To start with, there's the basic concern for the health of other people and the health of ourselves. That's always going to be an issue. It really makes us question our mortality. We realize that we are vulnerable, as humans we are delicate beings. So that is definitely one source of worry.

And if you've got a family member, a friend who's sick, and you can't go and see them, that becomes an additional source because you want to do something and there's nothing you can do. Again, we want to control, we want to be able to manage things and we can't.

Equally, we have fears about what's coming next in terms of financial future. So people are worried about their jobs. They're worried about whether they're going to be able to pay their mortgages, whether they're going to have a big change in their lifestyle. And they're worried about their family members in terms of children's education, so that becomes another worry.

Then, if people are in isolation on their own, living on their own, these thoughts and these worries start to get augmented because what happens is we don't have anyone to share them with. Really, that kind of turns into a spiral where they become more and more exaggerated, and more exaggerated and we really catastrophize about the outcome.

Equally, if people are living with people and we've got all these emotions and we haven't got time or space for ourselves, that becomes an additional pressure. So within families or your friendship groups, you might start to see arguments.

And of course, the government guidelines and the government announcements in countries are all ever-changing. So we don't even know how long we're going to be in isolation, how long we're going through this process of re-integration. It means that people feel they don't often have something to look forward to.

Because we're not perhaps working or being productive in the same way we used to, and we're equally not getting feedback from our colleagues, because even if we're working from home, we're not surrounded by people who are telling us our work is good, we can start to feel a real lack of sense of achievement. So that's something else.

On the flip side, we are seeing that because people are realizing the importance of their relationships, they're taking the time to invest in that. People are seeing the value of their work and therefore, they are gonna go back to work and they're gonna appreciate that work.

So there is a lot of anxiety coming upon us, but hopefully we can also harness this to turn into something positive in the long run.

CGTN: How can we deal with mental health issues related to the lockdowns?

Wiseman: The tip is to really help them, I think for those who are not infected and are still healthy, really comes back to the things I've been teaching in organizations - have a routine, even if you're not working, it's very important that we have a goal each day, and we have a goal not only for ourselves, but we have a goal to connect with someone else.

And at the end of the day, we should really celebrate that goal and around that, try to build a routine, and this goes for people who have been put on furlough or job retention schemes where they're perhaps not working - they still need to keep that routine of getting up, having breaks, having regular meals, setting goals, noticing their achievements. Really fundamental.

Second thing, being aware of what we can control and what we can't, and really setting up our systems for how we manage that. So maybe making a list of people we could call when we're worried and so we know those are the people we could call on. Maybe having a new hobby, that when we're worried and we're getting overwhelmed with our thoughts, we can distract ourselves with learning an instrument or reading or cooking. Or perhaps, finding tools like looking for the possibility, looking for what I can learn here, looking for different views of those things we can't control. And then if there is something we can control, not procrastinating, putting it on our goal list and getting on with doing something about it.

And then that third piece, again, this self-compassion - can't reiterate it enough. There's a lot of research by Kristin Neff on the impact and on the importance of having compassion because we're often very compassionate of others - you know, "I feel so sorry for you; I understand this is hard, but when it comes to ourselves," we don't offer that. And it's really important that we give ourselves that.

CGTN: For those who recovered from COVID-19, what will be the psychological impact and what should be done?

Wiseman: What we need to be aware of is that often after any kind of physical trauma, health trauma, there can be a residual anxiety. And that's really something we have to be aware of. For some people, they will come out, they will be so grateful to be alive that they will have a released sense of lifeness - something we call post-traumatic growth, where after a trauma, people become very aware of what matters to them and they can grow stronger as a result of this. We see it a lot with people who have had major accidents, we see that post-traumatic growth syndrome.

What we might see though, is that people find it difficult to kind of trust life again. They might feel always that they might get sick, there might be that residual anxiety. So being compassionate to that, as we move out, that you know people might hold onto that. And if we're listening, if we're trying to support people who are going through that and who are really questioning their mortality, it's really about not telling them to feel different, not telling them to not worry, just listening to them and accepting that that's how they feel. Because it's very easy for us to say, but you're healthy again and it's okay. But for them, they just need that support to be listened to and accepted to help them through that process.

Interviewers: Qiu Feifan, Xu Sicong

Video editing: Liu Shasha, Xu Sicong

Senior producer: Wei Wei

Managing director: Mei Yan

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