Mental health problems are common. Now even more so, after more than a year of the coronavirus rapidly sweeping across the world. A Lovin Malta survey has uncovered COVID-19’s detrimental affect on people’s mental well-being.
At the start of the pandemic, stress and anxiety ruled society. But as new measures like quarantine and lockdowns were introduced, people’s lives were turned upside down.
Living in the unknown is rarely a good thing for the human brain. So when social spaces closed and sports activities were cancelled, loneliness, depression and substance abuse creeped their way into people’s lives.
This article about mental health during COVID-19 is part of a multi-article series shedding light on mental well-being issues in Malta, from depression and anxiety to eating disorders and psychological abuse.
People of all shapes and sizes are mentally affected by the pandemic, and the following stories are examples of real experiences people deal with.
“Controlling my emotions is exhausting”
A woman in her late 20s opened up about her mental health issues. She suffers from borderline personality disorder, ADHD, depressive episodes and anxiety.
What that means for her is that she has to deal with extreme black-and-white thinking and suicidal thoughts.
“I can easily go from 1 to a 100 in a matter of seconds. Controlling my emotions and thoughts is exhausting. I need to be present in my head daily or else they take over.”
During the pandemic, living with her demons became even worse. She opened up to her friends about the way she was feeling, and they were understanding. “They told me that COVID-19, masks and madness will not last forever.”
But when reaching out to professionals, she was left hanging – the phone wasn’t even answered. She ended up mainly keeping her issues to herself. “I already told the people I’m close to, and I cannot bother them every week.”
“I was afraid of being judged as mignuna”
A woman in her early forties suffers from OCD, and told us how it got worse during the pandemic.
“I am anxious about Covid numbers, constantly checking out pages about Covid. Sometimes I feel like I could swallow my tongue when I’m talking.”
Her issues existed long before the pandemic, and got worse because she didn’t dare to speak about it. “I kept it for myself for a whole decade, because I knew my thinking was not normal. I was afraid of being judged as ‘mignuna’.”
And even now, she knows that many people do not understand her condition or what she is passing through. “I only have one friend who genuinely supports me. For professional help, I went to see a psychiatrist.”
Fortunately the medication helps her out, and she is doing better thanks to the antidepressant sertraline. Additionally, when she experiences a panic attack she takes Ativan, which is used to treat anxiety.
“A professional told me to watch motivational videos”
A teenage boy related he experiences depression and anxiety because of COVID-19. He kept it to himself, as his parents do not understand. They think therapists are for crazy people.
When he opened up about it to friends, they told him “U dak mhu xejn, issa jghaddilek, keep your head up high.”
And when seeking out professional help, he was told to watch “motivational videos.”
“They thought baking cupcakes would get me out of my depression”
A woman in her early twenties suffers from Bipolar Disorder II and anxiety. “There have been many instances where I woke up feeling bitter and angry at the fact that I woke up in the morning. Death is something I have grappled with daily. Yet at the same time, it still makes me uncomfortable.”
It was hard for her to speak up about her issues, and she struggled with feelings of worthlessness.
“I felt like a burden. I thought my problems and worries were not serious or important, and thought I did not need any help.”
But eventually she chose to confide in people she trusted, expecting a positive reaction. There was definitely some ignorance: “They thought baking cupcakes would get me out of my depressive episode. But everyone has been supportive of me, and their actions have always come from a place of love.”
While she feared being judged, sharing her struggles was a good experience. “Nothing which I discussed, including self harm and suicidal ideation, was ever met with any judgement. I created a safe space for myself.”
“Go back to your country”
As Malta’s xenophobic side flourished in the pandemic, “Go back to your country” was something a South African man in his thirties often heard. The start of the pandemic was stressful for him.
“I pay to be here, I introduce funds to the country and create jobs. I left everything for a ‘better life’. But I have to deal with the stress of being treated with hatred for being who I am – a foreigner.”
Fortunately he found a shoulder to lean on in his friends, who ground him and do some reality checks. But because of the racist encounters, he refuses to speak to a Maltese doctor.
“I am a foreigner and will be treated differently.”
These stories are just a few out of many. Everyone knows someone who is struggling with their mental health, and current times only worsened their issues.
By the end of 2020 the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that “pandemic fatigue” was causing mental health issues to increase, and developed materials on mental health support.
If you think you might suffer from pandemic fatigue or other mental health issues, check in with yourself. Do you experience a lack of energy, exhaustion and the inability to complete daily tasks that were once simple?
Do you feel constantly overwhelmed, sad or helpless? Have you lost hope for the future or are you isolating yourself from others?
If so, it might be time to reach out to someone you trust. Whether that’s your best friend, a close family member or a confidential professional.
If you or someone you know needs to talk about their mental health, please call national support service 179. Alternatively, visit www.kellimni.com or Richmond Foundation’s OLLI.chat. to get in touch online.
Do you have a mental health story to share? Send it to [email protected]