We are constantly educated on the physical precautions to take in this pandemic, but what about              protecting the impact that this daily stress has on our minds? And how can we deal with these long-term effects? Mental health should never be ignored, especially with the impact of a pandemic.

 Why mental health needs to be addressed

Although mental health problems account for about one-third of the world’s disability among adults, these issues tend to be under-addressed and overlooked in society and are closely associated with deadly disease outbreaks.

In the wake of the massively volatile COVID-19 crisis, we have to recognize the complex trauma caused. Complex trauma manifests in so many different ways and results in mental health challenges affecting individuals, families, communities, our economy and every other sector of society. According to Otu, Charles and Yaya (2020), although mental health problems account for about one-third of the world’s disability among adults, these issues tend to be under-addressed and overlooked in society and are closely associated with deadly disease outbreaks. In large scale outbreaks, the mental health problems experienced are not limited to infected persons but also extend to involved frontline health workers and community members alike. While it is crucial to limit the spread of infections during an outbreak, previous experience suggests that mental and behavioural health interventions should be fully included in public health response strategies.

How Covid-19 has affected our mental health

While it is crucial to limit the spread of infections during an outbreak, previous experience suggests that mental and behavioural health interventions should be fully included in public health response strategies. (Otu, Charles and Yaya, 2020)

UK psychiatrist Andrea Danese at King’s College London says.  “People are facing a novel, threatening and unpredictable experience.” She also adds “At the same time, people are losing important coping strategies for stressful situations, enduring disruption in their routine and having to distance themselves from friends and families. They may also suffer the loss of loved ones. It is important to consider the longer-term implications of this emergency for mental health.” In a survey published last week in The Lancet, people in the UK reported increased anxiety, depression and stress, and concerns about social isolation. These were larger worries than the prospect of having Covid-19. (Sarna and Moyer, 2020)

A virus that we can’t control poses feelings of fear, isolation and being overwhelmed. Aiysha Malik, a psychologist at the World Health Organization said. “We are seeing the spread of a virus, but we have also, from the very beginning, been seeing the spread of fear as well,” As well as having to wrap our heads around the threat of the virus itself, public and personal life has changed beyond recognition. The actions we have had to take to curb the spread of disease have left some of us struggling to cope with a lack of childcare while working, a loss of income, separation from family and friends, and serious health fears. For others, it has meant working on the front line, facing potentially traumatic experiences and making tough moral decisions. Whatever our situation, it’s time to look at what we can all do to limit the toll on our mental well-being. (Sarna and Moyer, 2020)

How Covid-19 has affected our relationships and our families

Then we can’t ignore the strain that Covid-19 and lockdown has had on the relationships in our lives. Whether it be with our spouses, partners, children, housemates or parents. In the first week of lockdown in the UK, couples therapy charity Tavistock Relationships saw a 40% increase in searches for its online services compared with previous weeks. To many people, it probably comes as little surprise that the demands of social distancing and lockdown amplify any problems in a relationship, and create new strains – especially when you add healthcare worries, childcare pressures, financial uncertainty and cramped living conditions to the mix. (Sarna and Moyer, 2020)

Routine is what keeps us grounded and for many it’s been pulled away like a carpet under our feet. A lot of adaption has had to happen in a short space of time.

Added to this there is the impact of the lockdown, including the closure of schools for most children, which leaves families feeling untethered. “What is having a really important impact on every family’s mental health is the complete change in structure,” says Labuschagne. “Parents are now having to re-establish different sorts of routines – and when you’re anxious about a risk you cannot see, and about being able to pay bills, that is a tall order.” (Sarna and Moyer, 2020) Routine is what keeps us grounded and for many it’s been pulled away like a carpet under our feet. A lot of adaption has had to happen in a short space of time.

Children and teenagers may be disproportionately affected by ongoing events, says Danese. There are several reasons for this. “Starting from biology, their brains are still developing, and they may be less able to control their emotional responses, whether to events they perceive as traumatic or to worrying thoughts and uncertainty,” he says. “They may struggle with the alarming and sometimes conflicting messages on the news. And, even more than the rest of us, they have had an unprecedented disruption of their normal experiences like education and socializing.” (Sarna and Moyer, 2020)

Bring mental health into conversation

Taking these psychological costs seriously is critical, says Sandro Galea, a physician and epidemiologist at Boston University in the US. “The mental health impact is the next wave of this event, and I am worried that we’re not talking about it enough,” he says. (Sarna and Moyer, 2020). So we are doing just that, talking about the mental health impacts on everyone. We encourage you all to take it seriously and to not ignore it. Whether that means taking time for yourself, spending more time outdoors, or talking to someone, we all can be consistent in dealing with these ‘psychological costs’.

The Emergence of Telepsychology

According to Knopf and Alison (2020), teletherapy is now required in the era of the coronavirus/COVID‐19 pandemic.

So, in the era of social distancing with travel constraints in place, what is the solution for face to face mental support? Telepsychology! Technology and online communications within businesses has played an even stronger role than before since people are confined to their homes! As businesses have adapted so does psychology! According to Knopf and Alison (2020), telespychology is now required in the era of the coronavirus/COVID‐19 pandemic. Robert Caudill, M.D., a member of the American Psychiatric Association’s Committee on Telepsychiatry said during an interview in March. “We should be doing it immediately; the more, the better.”

Telepsychology is on the rise and people ask themselves does it work? According to Simpson, Susan, Reid and Corinne (2020), Telepsychology represents a high-quality/low-cost model of service delivery. Findings to date suggest that outcome might be equivalent to in-person therapy across a range of client groups both using standardized assessments and evidence-based therapies. Studies have consistently shown that clients rate high levels of satisfaction and therapeutic rapport.

Realizing the potential of telepsychology in South Africa, will only be fully realized with the cooperation of local cellphone and data service providers.

Telepsychology has the potential to be just as effective in a South African context however data costs and access to telecommunication devices remains problematic for many. Realizing the potential of telepsychology in South Africa, will only be fully realized with the cooperation of local cellphone and data service providers.

How we have incorporated Telepsychology in The Connect Group

Initially teletherapy didn’t compare to live sessions. However, in viewing teletherapy as an art and intervention model in its own right, we have learnt just how much it has to offer.

The Connect Group has utilized telepsychology for individual therapy, couples’ therapy, trauma debriefing and training and for play therapy with kids too! Initially teletherapy didn’t compare to live sessions. However, in viewing teletherapy as an art and intervention model in its own right, we have learnt just how much it has to offer. Video clips, music, interactive slide shows have resulted in maximum engagement from clients of all ages.

Jamboards.com- a free slideshow application available to Google Clients, has allowed us to create interactive counselling content for sessions with children. Using Zoom as the video application whilst both accessing the same Jamboard allows the child and counsellor to drag and drop, draw or write on the Board in real time. A free sample ‘How are you feeling?’ Jamboard can be accessed via this link for you to experience for yourself. https://jamboard.google.com/d/1Q5HlbrhlC1hQoiFWvjuXQaRzugFh7HX2ZRWWtQpZLhk/edit?usp=sharing. Training on the effective use of this tool will soon be offered by The Connect Group so watch this space!

 

 

References:

Knopf, A. (2020). Telemental health comes into its own with social distancing. The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, 36(5), 7-7.

Otu, A., Charles, C. H., & Yaya, S. (2020). Mental health and psychosocial well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic: the invisible elephant in the room. International Journal of Mental Health Systems, 14(1), 1-5.

Sarner, M. (2020). Maintaining mental health in the time of coronavirus. New Scientist246(3279), 40-46.

Simpson, S., & Reid, C. (2014). Telepsychology in A ustralia: 2020 vision. Australian Journal of Rural Health, 22(6), 306-309.

 

Written by Kayla-Tess Pattenden and Caley Wildman

 

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