A parent helps her child with schoolwork at home while under quarantine in northern Italy. (AFP)
Counselling Psychologist Starrina Pereira (SP) and Artist / Life Coach Yasodhara Pathanjali (YP) answer questions on mental health and ways to maintain our mental wellness during the lockdown.
QYou hear a lot of people in general use the words “Depression” and “Depressed” to describe hard days, what are your thoughts on this?
Starrina Pereira: This very harmful practice devalues the medical needs of someone who is actually going through depression by dismissing it as a very normal and simple thing. People who are actually going through the illness might not try to get help because every time they try to talk, their symptoms are generalised.
The reason people use the terms depressed or depression loosely might be due to lack of proper awareness. Learning and understanding the difference between the feeling and the disorder is crucial.
There’s a serious lack of awareness when it comes to mental health in general, and the stigma around it is also very harmful.
Yasodhara Pathanjali: If we did this with physical health, imagine the implications. If diabetes was referred to in ignorance as heart disease, the patient would not be able to get the help they need, or know what healthy ways of living they could implement in their lives. It is the same for mental health.
QFor those of us who are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, stress, fear and low feelings, how can we work out if what we are feeling is a clinical mental health condition, or something that we can improve on our own?
Yasodhara Pathanjali: A lot of the times we know that we are feeling off when we get headaches, or are not able to sleep, or feel more teary or more angry than our usual selves. We feel overwhelmed by “ a dark cloud “. With my clients I always try to untangle this dark cloud, to see what are feelings and stresses that could be handled through coaching and relaxation, and what needs to be further explored by a mental health professional. A good first step is to see whether meditative or relaxation methods show significant improvement, and take it from there.
Starrina Pereira: Because of the Covid-19 Lockdown, many people are going through a tough time emotionally as we all feel restless, fearful for our lives and anxious as to how things might turn up. In general to properly clarify if you have a clinically diagnosed mental illness, you have to reach out for professional help. It’s the same as a physical illness:, if you have high cholesterol levels you have to go through regular testing to keep it checked, likewise if you have clinically diagnosed depression or anxiety you have to get tested by a mental health professional.
QWhat are your top tips for improving your mood and feelings in this current lockdown?
Starrina Pereira: One of the most common things I’ve noticed these days is that people have started to sleep and wake up at very odd times. Even though at first this would have given us a feeling of freedom and a nice vacation-like escape from our usual work-home-work life, this is harmful in the long run. When our body’s biological clock has to adjust almost every day to sleeping at different times, eating at different times and so on,, our body gets tired. For our body,it’s like going through a long period of jet lag.
Yasodhara Pathanjali: So true!! I m seeing the same thing from my clients. There is little structure and the day to day routine has disappeared. I d say, get a structure around your day, do one physical activity per day, choose to follow positive things and keep focusing on staying physically and mentally healthy. Also embrace the low days, because this is hard for all of us, but don’t allow yourself to make low days the norm.
QWhen should you seek out professional help? And what are the best ways to do that during lockdown?
Yasodhara Pathanjali: When you realise that you have moved far away from your normal self. If you are not feeling ok, then reach out. Even if it turns out that you don’t need clinical help, it is better to know that than risk not getting help because of stigma or taboo. Always take care of you.
Starrina Pereira: If anyone begins to feel like they need professional help, that’s exactly when they must reach for help. I understand that there’s a social stigma behind reaching for professional help and that’s one of the main reasons people keep having second thoughts and end up not reaching out. However, if you feel like you need to talk to someone and, are at a point when you really cannot seem to get through, or find it difficult to control your emotions, you should reach out for help.
Due to the lockdown, for quite a long time it won’t be safe to physically meet up with a counselling psychologist, so the only way to reach for professional help is getting online or opting for over-the-phone counselling and psychotherapy right now.
QWhat do you think are the basics that we need to promote a mentally and physically healthy society overall going forward? How can we leap from this pandemic to ensure a more aware and healthier future?
Starrina Pereira: The very first and most important thing that we need to do is introduce mental health to our education systems. We need to treat our mental health with just as much priority as our physical health.Proper awareness, more open discussion and better education will break the stigma and help people take care of themselves.
The Pandemic has made this a mainstream topic and most people are experiencing nervousness,, anxiety and restlessness. So, let’s try and use this state of being to understand the effect our mental health has on our body. Let the emotional stress and anxiety that you are going through right now help you understand the importance of maintaining good mental health and practice good emotional hygiene.
Yasodhara Pathanjali: We have had an explosion of talking about mental health and well-being because of the pandemic, so we should keep the conversations going. The old idea that mental health is something for the “crazy” few is very much dead, we are all on a journey through life where our physical and mental health will take hits at different times. It is normal, it happens to everybody and it is important, in those times, that we take care of ourselves, and know how to.