Topic: Mental Health in times of pandemic: What can each individual do to lessen the burden?

mental health 2020_

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Sarah Ibershimi, a third year medical students, studying at ‘Universiteti i Mjekësisë Tiranë (UMT)’, in Albania. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has spread rapidly between and within countries and it has sickened more than 2.5 million people all over the world.  Pandemics are not only health emergencies in which human life is threatened but they are also human dramas that cause psychological disturbances. Due to the emergency caused by the novel coronavirus, the governments put their countries on a lockdown, in order to break the chain of transmission. But, what are the consequences of social isolation on mental health and what can be done to mitigate these effects?

The coronavirus outbreak is clearly shaping our lives. Coping with unemployment, mobility restrictions, social distance and excessive fear in such a short time, is not easy at all. In terms of mental health, this emergency exceeds the capacity of the population to handle on the situation. Moreover, the psychological effects are more marked in vulnerable groups such as elderly people, children or even those who have a lack of resources and access to social and health services. Regarding this, there are a lot of effective initiatives that we can undertake to lessen the burden.

Firstly, since COVID-19 is the first global pandemic of the social media era, being concerned about the news is understandable and inevitable. However, minimizing reading and watching to news about Covid-19 may result efficient to protect ourselves from fear and anxiety. It’s important to seek information only from reliable sources, in order to avoid disinformation.

Secondly, due to school closures, children are deprived from their daily habits and this may lead to negative feelings and emotions such as sadness, fear and insecurity. For this reason, it is important to maintain the family routine and to engage children in creative activities such as drawing, singing, dancing, playing, reading, including learning activities in order to enable them to express their feelings in a safe way.

Thirdly, the lockdown seems to be a real problem for older people, especially to those with underlying health conditions. Despite the difficulties, there are a lot of strategies that may result helpful such as engaging in physical activities, keeping up with hobbies or creating new ones which give a sense of achievement. It is also crucial to maintain social connections, in order to avoid loneliness.

Fourthly, another vulnerable group are the workers and especially the healthcare workers. Due to the avoidance by their family or friends, they can experience more stressful situations than others and for this reason it is important to maintain virtual contact with the loved ones or turn to the colleagues who may be experiencing similar difficulties.

In times of challenge for health, it is important to distinguish a normal psychological manifestation towards an abnormal situation, from psychopathological manifestations. To make the difference, the duration and intensity of the symptoms can come to our aid. Finally, it is essential to realize that we are all in this together and we will win this battle, as humanity has always done.

About the author

Sarah Ibershimi is a third year medical students, studying at ‘Universiteti i Mjekësisë Tiranë (UMT)’, in Albania. She is a Vice-General Secretary of ACMS (Albanian Committee of Medical Students), part of IFMSA (International Federation of Medical Students’ Association), since August, 2019. This new experience is enabling her to advocate change for the betterment of health for all vulnerable groups, which is also one of the main purposes of ACMS. The intertwining of the passion and professionalism, has always helped her to show her best in all the responsibilities that she undertakes.

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