With the looming threat of a novel coronavirus, there is so much attention given to protecting our physical health that our mental well-being drops lower and lower in our list of priorities. Amid an indefinite pandemic, having psychological and psychosocial support is essential, especially in maintaining our overall health and lifestyle.
According to Dr. Hans Kluge, MD from the World Health Organization (WHO), “It is definitely natural for anyone to feel stress, fear, anxiety, and loneliness during this time. At [the] WHO, we take the [effects on] our mental health [and] psychological wellness as being very crucial consequences of COVID-19.”
The Role Of Family In Mental Health
Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), stressed that the ongoing pandemic would result in long-term consequences involving families and communities, especially if mental health needs remain unaddressed.
Our family is the first relationship we ever make in this world. For most of us, we spend a considerable part of our lives surrounded by our family members. It is especially true for certain cultures.
Regardless of whether we live directly under their roof or not, we cannot deny that our relationship with our family affects us in a myriad of ways, including our mental wellness.
Healthy relationships are one of the most significant predictors of happiness and content. Many pieces of research have provided evidence that there is a link between healthy relationships and mental health. Similarly, poor relationships can contribute to its deterioration.
While our family plays a role in our mental health, we share the same responsibility in protecting theirs. Thus, we must learn how to support them during this pandemic.
Regularly take the time to check up on each of your family members. You can do this either face to face or through mediated communication, such as talking over the phone, having a video call, starting a group chat, or sending a message through social media.
In starting a conversation about your family’s mental health, you can choose to ask directly (e.g., “How has your mental health been during this pandemic?”) or use subtler leading questions. Make it clear that you are willing and ready to listen to them actively.
Identifying Warning Signs & Symptoms
Pay attention to how your family answers your questions and be vigilant in identifying indications of deteriorating mental health. If you live in the same house, take note of any changes in their behavior or routine.
Here are some signs and symptoms to watch out for:
- Losing interest in hobbies and other matters they used to love
- Feeling angry or sad for little or no reason
- Feeling anxious or terrified about situations or objects that seem usual to you and others
- Changes in sleep patterns or developing insomnia
- Changes in their eating patterns or behavior
- Emotional numbness or them saying that they don’t feel anything anymore
- Avoiding you, other family members, and their close friends
- Talking about taking their life or feeling hopeless
- Declining productivity in school or work
Listening & Offering Support
Actively listening is key to being there for your family members. You can show your attentiveness by reflecting on what you heard and seeking confirmation (e.g., “It sounds like you’ve been struggling lately, is that right?”).
Additionally, before offering suggestions or your opinions, gauge whether it is something that they want to hear. For instance, you can ask, “Would it be helpful for me to offer advice, or do you prefer that I just listen?” Whatever response you get, you must respect it.
If your loved one is seeking help or advice, be realistic about what you can provide. Ensure that you won’t risk overextending yourself by suggesting specific tasks instead of declaring vague, albeit well-intentioned promises (e.g., “I’ll help with anything you need”).
Here are a few gestures of support you can offer:
- Schedule a regular phone or video call to check in with each other.
- Support their daily routine.
- Offer to watch a movie or to read a book together.
- Offer to exercise or work out together.
- Make a list together of coping skills for stressful or overwhelming moments.
- Play virtual games together, whether by finding existing ones or coming up with your own.
- Collaborate on a creative project (e.g., writing a story).
- Practice a mindfulness exercise together.
- Drop a meal or groceries at their front door.
Seeking Professional Help
Research on the accessible community mental health services in your area. Get immediate assistance if you think that your family member is at risk of harming themselves.
Currently, more and more people are advocating for self-care. But a support system is equally important. It does not only mean having people to support you, but it also means you can assist other people, especially the ones closest to you. In these trying times, you must keep your friends close and your family even closer.