*This article has been commissioned by Sanlam*
A recent survey released by the International Red Cross revealed that the mental health of 62% of South Africans has been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Mental health conditions were already a concern before the pandemic and, while the country has dealt with the immediate effects of COVID-19, the long-lasting negative effects have yet to surface, explains Dr Yusrah Parker, Medical Advisor at Sanlam Individual Life.
Conditions with long-lasting negative effects include post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, irritability, anger, and anxiety, all of which may be brought on by fears of getting infected, isolation, inadequate supplies and information, as well as financial loss.
If you experience any of the following, Dr Parker advises you to seek professional help immediately:
- Constant fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
- Constant fear and worry about your financial situation and job status
- Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
- Difficulty concentrating
- Worsening health issues
- Worsening mental health issues
- Increased use of tobacco and related products, alcohol, and other harmful substances
You can also contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) on 0800 456 789 to speak to a professional.
To ensure you are prioritising your mental health during and post COVID-19, follow these tips by Dr Parker:
1. Check in with yourself
Ask yourself how you are doing, determine what you need and acknowledge your feelings.
2. Establish a routine
Continue your usual daily routine, such as waking early and getting dressed for work, even if you are not going into the office. If you are a parent, incorporate a schedule for your children. Break up the monotony.
Exercise benefits mental health by reducing adrenaline and cortisol, both of which are stress hormones. You can incorporate active time into your day by walking, light stretching and doing yoga practice.
4. Find a healthy balance of information
Ditch the COVID overload! Avoid checking updated information constantly and minimise your chance of receiving constant updates by keeping to a 15-minute limit when checking the news.
5. Stay connected
As we continue to social distance, do not forget to connect with family, friends and co- workers. This will minimise feelings of isolation and protect your mental health. You can call, text, email, video chat or participate in online activities such as classes.
6. Spend free time on meaningful activities
Activities such as reading or taking a walk on the beach to unwind also allow your mind to relax.
7. Speak to someone
If you are not coping, a listening ear may help in allowing you to express your feelings and provide support.
8. Take a break from work
Consider taking a few days of annual leave to help you disconnect and relax.
9. Maintain a balanced diet
Do not skip meals. This happens when we become too busy with tasks during the day or are feeling stressed. Limit high-sugar and high-caffeine drinks and drink plenty of water instead. Ensure you have three meals at regular intervals during the day.
Mental health receives only 5% of the public health expenditure, making access to mental healthcare inadequate or inaccessible for most South Africans. “While you cannot predict whether you will ever be part of the current 62% of South Africans that are negatively affected by COVID-19, you can ensure you have income protection cover to safeguard you financially while you get the treatment you need,” concludes Dr Parker.