Posted on April 23, 2020

The stresses and anxieties created by the global COVID-19 pandemic should not lead to people forgetting that they still have control over their lives – and that includes maintaining their mental health and wellbeing.

This was the message emphasized to an online audience by the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) at the latest edition of Discover QF, a platform that sees members of the Qatar Foundation community share their interests and expertise with others.

With the coronavirus crisis forcing people to isolate themselves from family and friends, and drastically changing their lifestyles, the potential mental health consequences of the pandemic are coming into increasingly sharp focus. Discover QF saw the mental health expertise that exists within WISH’s international community of healthcare professionals being reflected by Nicholas Bradshaw, the QF global health initiative’s Director of Partnerships and Outreach, who said: “It gives us an uneasy sense of having a lack of control.

“We are bombarded with information, the situation directly impacts all of us, and it is easy to become overwhelmed by what we can’t control rather than what we can. But we really do have control, and by doing the things we are being asked to do – wash our hands, observe social distancing guidelines, eat healthily, exercise at home – we are actually demonstrating this. “In the same way, taking time to care about our mental health is also something we can control.”

In the webinar, Bradshaw – who, while not being a doctor, spoke about mental health from a WISH perspective in order to support awareness of the issue – said that the pandemic may mean people can relate to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression more than ever. “Even though we are all in our homes, there is a connectedness, and it is recognized why people may be feeling low,” he said. “Issues such as anxiety and depression can be triggered by life events, and what is happening right now is a life event for all of us.”

In 2018, WISH published a research report on anxiety and depression which said there is a “fundamental necessity” to recognize these conditions as a public health priority and include them as part of universal healthcare programs, citing estimates that 322 million people worldwide have depression and 264 million live with anxiety disorders. “We have to remember that it is normal to have issues, and success is no measure of mental health – you can be incredibly successful and put on a great face to the world, but be facing mental health issues that you need to be honest about,” said Bradshaw. ”It is OK not to be OK. You should be kind and good to yourself, willing to accept things may not go to plan, and confident about voicing your situation.”

The talk also discussed ways of staving off mental strain amid the ongoing pandemic, including limiting time spent watching news bulletins, and being wary of fake news and sources that lack credibility, all of which can add to anxiety; staying connected while not overusing social media; and engaging in hobbies. “Cognitive reframing can help – you are not stuck at home, you are safe at home; you are not missing things you love, you are increasing your gratitude for the things you love; you are not missing your friends, you are protecting each other,” Bradshaw said. “You can set up a ‘worry window’ – writing down your concerns and having a moment each day when you feel you need to strongly think about them – and congratulate yourself on even the little things, such as exercising when you said you would.

“You need to maintain a positive work-life balance, especially when days can merge into each other, and make weekends your own. And, as this is not a normal situation, don’t expect life to be normal or to always go to plan, even family life – you can set up family structures without restricting your family or yourself, and you can give each other space without neglecting each other“Stay in the present rather than the past, stay emotionally connected and be willing to open up about how you are feeling, and don’t give up if things don’t go to plan – there is always tomorrow, and an opportunity to try again.”

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