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COVID-19: Mental health in the age of coronavirus

UN News) Since January when the World Health Organization (WHO) determined the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, to be a “public health emergency of international concern”, stress levels everywhere have continued to mount. WHO’s 31-point guidance specifically targets the general population; healthcare workers; health facility managers; childcare providers; older adults, care providers and people with underlying health conditions; and those who are living in isolation to try and contain the spread of the pandemic.

“Be empathetic to all those who are affected, in and from any country”, WHO highlights first, warning against stigmatizing anyone who has or had the virus. 

It also recommended that you seek information updates from trusted sources only and at set times once or twice a day.

“The sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel worried”, said WHO. “Get the facts; not the rumors and misinformation”. 

The website and local health authorities’ platforms can help to separate facts from speculation. 

The UN Health agency also points to the benefits of helping others, such as by phoning neighbors or community members who may need some extra assistance. 

“Working together as one community can help to create solidarity in addressing COVID-19”.

Video Credit: Michigan Wolverines on MLive

Those who help others

The UN health agency reminded everyone to “honour caretakers and healthcare workers…[for] the role they play to save lives and keep your loved ones safe”, while assuring healthworkers that it is normal to feel “under pressure” and emphasizing that stress is “by no means a reflection that you cannot do your job or that you are weak”. 

WHO urged them to rest sufficiently, eat healthy foods, get physical activity and stay in contact with family and friends.

“This is a unique and unprecedent scenario for many workers, particularly if they have not been involved in similar responses”, said WHO, with the reminder that “this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon”. 

Those in charge

WHO advises that protecting staff from chronic stress and poor mental health will provide them with the capacities they need to perform their duties. 

And focusing on the longer term rather than short-term crisis responses, team leaders or health facility managers are encouraged to deliver quality communication and accurate information updates to all staff. 

WHO outlined the benefits in rotating workers from higher- to lower-stress functions and in partnering inexperienced workers with those who are more experienced, to provide reassurance.

Maintaining that the buddy system helps to “provide support, monitor stress and reinforce safety procedures”, WHO advocated for outreach personnel to work in pairs and to “initiate, encourage and monitor work breaks”.

Those with children

When caring for children, WHO underscored the importance of helping them to find positive ways to express feelings, such as fear and sadness. 

“Children feel relieved if they can express and communicate their feelings in a safe and supportive environment”, the UN health agency maintained, encouraging that if safe, they be kept close to their parents and family. 

If not, regular contact with parents should be maintained, such as twice-daily scheduled phone or video calls.

Caring for the vulnerable

As older adults and people with underlying health conditions who are vulnerable, may become more anxious, agitated and withdrawn during the outbreak, WHO stressed the importance of relaying clear instructions in a concise, respectful and patient way, noting that pictures may also be utilized. 

“Engage their family and other support networks” to provide information and help them practice prevention measures, including handwashing, the UN health agency said. And when in isolation, stay connected and maintain daily routines, as much as possible. 
“Keep things in perspective…and avoid listening to or following rumours”, concluded WHO.

Pregnant, breastfeeding women 

Meanwhile, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has recommended that breastfeeding women who become ill should not be separated from their newborns.

While there is no evidence that the illness can be transmitted through breastmilk, UNFPA urged mothers who are infected to wear a mask when near their baby, wash their hands before and after feeding, and disinfect contaminated surfaces. 

“If a mother is too ill to breastfeed, she should be encouraged to express milk for the baby, while taking all necessary precautions”, the UN’s women’s health agency said. “Mental health and psychosocial support should be made available to affected individuals and their families”.

Maintaining that the buddy system helps to “provide support, monitor stress and reinforce safety procedures”, WHO advocated for outreach personnel to work in pairs and to “initiate, encourage and monitor work breaks”.

April Green


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The Mental Health Benefits Of Getting Dressed For Work

By Katie McPherson-Huff Post Life

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has become more aware than ever of the importance of hand-washingdisinfecting surfaces and taking care of our immune systems.

However, while you’re physically separated from your social support systems and your routines are disrupted, minding your mental health is just as important as caring for your physical health. Major mental health organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness recommend keeping your “getting ready” routines intact as a way to do just that.

So, why do waking up at your usual time, showering and dressing for work will help you stay mentally well? De’Von Patterson, a psychologist at Baptist Behavioral Health, said humans like knowing what’s going to happen next and that uncertainty can lead to anxiety.

“A lot of what people are experiencing right now is a disruption of their routine,” he told HuffPost. “When you don’t know what’s coming next, that can be a challenging thing for some people, so a lot of it is about having some semblance of what your day and week looks like. Knowing what’s coming next can be comforting.”

Whether it’s because of the social isolation, lack of productivity, or drop in physical activity, working from home can make you feel anywhere from a little blue to downright depressed. So by waking up at your usual time, getting dressed (in something other than pajamas), and doing your hair and makeup, as usual, Patterson explains that you’re actually getting your brain ready for a better workday.

“There’s something called stimulus control where your behaviors are determined by a certain set of cues,” Patterson said. “Some people may have an easier time being productive if they recreate the cues associated with their productivity. If they’re getting dressed, that puts them in the mindset to work or study.”

Ryan G. Beale is a licensed psychotherapist and the CEO of Therapy.Live’s Prepare U mental health curriculum. He explains that getting dressed for different parts of your day is going to help break up the weird time warp that is quarantine.

While you don’t have to wear formal business attire or a work uniform to reap the benefits, it’s important just to get dressed.

“I don’t think it’s critical to put your suit on, but you could go ahead and put on khakis and a polo, something that is different from your lounging clothes,” he said. “It tells your brain something new is about to happen and helps you shift gears. That’s why it’s important to shift throughout the day. The reality is if you don’t, you’re likely going to be in a bit of a Groundhog Day and it can put you in a funk.”

Stefanie Schwartz, a psychologist at Baptist Behavioral Health, recommends figuring out what you enjoy about your current getting-ready routine and planning from there.

“It’s individualized, what makes you feel good,” she said. “If makeup makes me feel good, or doing my hair makes me feel good, I’ll do it. If not doing your makeup feels good right now, instead use that time to do something else. Otherwise, it can become a chore and have the opposite effect.”

“For some people, it’ll be, ‘Look, I get to wear my casual clothes I never get to wear this week. Is that something that’s going to make me feel better right now?’”

When it comes to salon visits for your hair or nails, Schwartz recommends continuing your beauty routine at home to practice self-care and taking pride in doing it yourself.

“This may sound really silly, but for those of us who go and get our nails done, this may be the first time we’re having to do that ourselves,” Schwartz said. “Anything small you can do to feel empowered and feel that positivity is great. We can’t go to the hairdresser and cover our grays right now, so we’re learning new skills and that can be empowering, rather than feeling like, ‘Oh great, my nails are a mess and I’m a mess.’”

Ultimately, all three experts agree that you should be flexible with your routine right now and not be too critical of yourself. Even so, they say that sometimes, getting up early and slapping on some mascara really can help.

“It can be really easy to get in a slump and get into anxiety and depression,” Schwartz said. “We’re going through something together, but a lot of this depends on our own personal behaviors.”

This article may have been edited for content

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