Locking Down Mental Health
Bianca Isaac - Intern Drama Therapist
We’ve engaged in the idea of Thuma Mina for years and the idea of “send me” has never been truer than for a time such as this. We are facing a novel, global pandemic which transcends the boundaries of race, class and socio-economic status. Yet, even in the face of such catastrophe, the power of the human spirit seems like the strongest and most profound way to navigate through a universal rhetorical of turmoil.
As an organisation which regards mental health as it’s primary focus, we at JPCCC are mindful that this pandemic may be affecting individuals’ mental health in subtle, yet potentially damaging ways. Associated with any biological disaster are themes of fear, anxiety and ambiguity. These themes often characterise our vocabulary and in turn, define our world view. Whilst this is an undoubtedly murky season, allowing these thoughts to constantly dominate our narratives can become corrosive, adding to the layers of practical stress the pandemic brings.
However, merely remaining optimistic is an unrealistic and sometimes inadequate approach. The raw truth is that there are thousands who do not have access to clean water, soap, sanitizer, healthy food, vitamins and the privilege of avoiding public transport. These are mostly the people who form the backbone of our nation and are now in one of the most compromised situations our country has ever seen. We cannot trivialise people’s pain because of privileged optimism, yet neither can we live in a persistent state of hopelessness.
So how do we exist in this seemingly contradictory state? We find the peace in understanding that this is temporary, whilst empathetically noticing the need around us. We find our purpose in helping others thereby shifting focus off our own needs. We work towards inner peace by joining a global cause. We simultaneously find spaces where we can improve and maintain our own mental integrity, because although it may feel like Armageddon now, the time for recovery will follow. It may pass with detrimental impact, but as we have historically witnessed, we will eventually heal from it’s impact. This is a time of global learning and we will miss the lessons if we constantly fixate on the turbulence.
Whilst there is no bullet-proof solution for the darkness, there are ways in which we can keep afloat, steps we can take to protect our mental health. Preventive measures are either viewed as a luxury or are simply ignored. We implore you to take them seriously – as much as you would your physical health. While we take steps to protect our bodies from physical danger, we should do the same for our inner selves.
Here are some materials to build your lifejacket over the next month:
1) Limit your intake of news. Don’t subscribe to the panic in a way which becomes poisonous. Use the panic to plan adequately (without emptying the shelves!), form a ‘new normal’ and limit your social media engagement. It is not necessary to consistently keep updated with the exponential rise of cases. This will allow your anxiety to spiral in a way that may become challenging to manage. Consider putting yourself on a “media schedule” to allow yourself time to process the ever-escalating information.
2) Check your sources. There are countless number of forwarded messages circulating on all platforms. Don’t believe everything you read without checking its origin and validity. “Fake news” can create exponential levels of anxiety -so think before you post. Visit www.sacoronavirus.co.za for updated information, or if you need help.
3) Protect your children from the gravity of the hysteria. Educate them on the necessities of improved personal hygiene, but manage your conversations and emotions around them. Limit their news intake, and if they are below 10-years-of-age, protect them from it entirely. Our job is to create safe, age-appropriate, healthy spaces for our children during this time.
4) Connect with nature. If this is possible, spend time in your garden (without visiting shops and neighbours) or simply step outside at intervals.
5) Develop a routine: Create structure for your children and yourself including recreational activities like arts & crafts, cooking, baking, reading, listening to music or podcasts and exercising. Bedtimes, mealtimes, and household chores will allow for a feeling of normalcy in the chaos.
6) Stay connected where possible: Call/text/video call someone once a day. Isolation can be an accelerant of depression or trigger depressive symptoms.
7) Find a way to still connect with your therapist. The time lapse may be detrimental for your mental health journey. Discuss online options for counselling or therapy.
8) Change the narrative. Yes, COVID-19 has gripped the world as a dominant narrative, but let it not stagnate your cognitive ability to grow. Find other conversational and reading topics to balance this dominance.
9) Remember others. Let not the common war of disease rob us of our ability to look beyond ourselves. There is a myriad of ways you can support someone - find the levity despite the heaviness.
10) Find something which brings you joy. This is certainly unchartered territory and part of our survival includes finding the things which bring us happiness and collating resources which are unique to our own journeys.
We write this not without knowledge of the health care workers, journalists, labourers, and the marginalised who perhaps cannot access these luxuries. We reiterate the concept of Thuma Mina, in acknowledging that this is not an individualistic, selfish pursuit of survival, but instead a call for global survival by employing safe practice.
*The Johannesburg Parent and Child Counselling Centre celebrates 76 years of counselling work this year. We remain accessible for clients as the need for mental-health care is ongoing.
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