The uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic has reached all corners of the earth, but Malta’s mental health patients have a unique set of issues to deal with.
With assumed services like face-to-face counselling combined with a deluge of gradually worsening news, some behaviours may be on the rise in Malta as people try to cope with all the unsure thoughts.
“COVID-19 has changed the way most of us work,” says Dr Edward Curmi, Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist. “Psychologists have had to adapt quickly by offering their clients the chance to do ‘virtual’ therapy through web-based meetings.”
While many companies are realising they can still operate with employees working from home, therapy is a little bit different.
“Most people are pretty OK with this, but some might feel it could be a little invasive or are uncomfortable with technology,” Curmi says. “At this stage, we have to provide the safest form of support for our clients whilst keeping in mind their state of mind.”
Unsurprisingly, not all people react in the same way.
“Some people have an incredible resilience towards such difficult times as their traumatic past events have only helped them cope better with such challenging times,” Curmi noted.
“However, as a general rule, when human beings are faced with events like a pandemic, they are likely to develop a global sense of uncertainty which can spread quickly amongst a community and is likely to lead to strong feelings of anxiety,” he continued.
This anxiety may become severe especially if this strong feeling of ‘threat’ kicks in as our brain picks this up and our body responds automatically by going into a ‘fight-flight-freeze’ mode.
Once this happens, people might start to worry severely, overthink and become full of negative thoughts.
“COVID-19 seems to be triggering a number of mental health challenges in people’s lives.”
Beyond severe anxiety blooming in some people in the face of this pandemic, other negative effects may be coming through as well – such as on one’s self-esteem.
“We are all aware that a possible recession is looming and likely to lead to a decrease in financial and job security,” Curmi said. “Studies have only confirmed the devastating affect unemployment may have on people’s perception of themselves as it is one fundamental way how individuals tend to measure their self-worth.”
People might also find it hard to adjust to this new, scarier world.
“When people are going through a hard time due to lifestyle changes overnight, we are bound to get confused. Our mind and body do not always appreciate these sudden changes and a number of individuals require a period of adaptation. Panic attacks, feelings of ambivalence and disorientation are possible reactions one might expect and talking about it to people who care about you could be one clever way forward,” he said.
One’s sleeping and eating patterns can be affected too.
“The stress could possibly manifest itself in insomnia and oversleeping. Similarly, some individuals are starting to refuse to eat or comfort eating. Both behaviours may be a result of stress,” he said.
Some people might start to choose self-destructive behaviours or dive deeper into their addictions to manage tension.
“We are not talking about that glass of wine or cigarette break that sometimes can help calm people down,” he points out. “What we are speaking about is the exaggerated use of addictive behaviours around alcohol, drugs, gambling and self-harm. As much as they might help us relieve the stressful symptoms in the short run, they could complicate our lives and damage our mental state.”
Another common ailment has been a strong sense of hopelessness and helplessness.
“People may start feeling apathy and a lack of motivation to do mundane things. Moments of sadness are understandable in such present times but feeling constantly depressed is something that you might want to talk about with someone who cares for you – support is always around the corner,” Curmi says.
However, Curmi and his colleagues were heartened to see how so many people were finding unique ways of coping in this crisis.
Have you seen any positive aspects on clients?
“One gift most of our clients give us is they tell us every day how they are able to ‘creatively adjust’ in such hard times. They remind us how capable we are as human beings to turn a lemon into lemonade… their resilience is priceless,” he said.
“They talk to me about how they are empowering themselves through emotional intelligence. How they learned to stop and think before they act and take more control of their thoughts.”
People are taking the time to get in touch with themselves more, and figure out what their true priorities in life should be.
“Some of them see this moment as a chance in their lifetime to embrace their families and learn the true meaning of love. They are discovering more who they are and who they really want to be once this whole ordeal is over. They have faith and hope that things will get better someday,” he ended.
Here are 9 tips on staying mentally healthy during these challenging times, according to Dr Curmi.
1. Stay realistically positive… don’t be pessimistic or too optimistic but try and find the shade of grey in all that you hear or read.
2. Reduce intake of social media… as research is showing us more than two hours can only increase our anxiety.
3. Make sure to keep a routine…. make Monday to Friday working days and enjoy the weekend.
4. Do exercise…. studies continue to confirm the biological and psychological benefits of keeping active.
5. Use humour… every day we are receiving humorous memes and sketches from friends trying to cheer us up. After all, laughter is one of the best medicines.
6. Stay in touch… with the people you love.
7. Practice mindfulness… which is the ability to appreciate the small things whilst slowing down our pace in the world.
8. Live in the moment… or what is better known as ‘carpe diem’. Focus on today as tomorrow can only bring uncertainty and yesterday might make you feel sad.
9. Trust the authorities… stop creating conspiracy theories in your head and give the people who have the knowledge the benefit of the doubt. Follow what they say to the tee and stay safe and respectful towards yourself and others.
Dr Edward Curmi is a registered Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist and author of two self-help books: ‘Common Sense’ and ‘More Common Sense’. All proceeds of the sale of these books go towards local NGOs Richmond Foundation and Dr. Klown.