The mental effects of Covid-19

The original interview with Ronel Carver as published in the Roodepoort Record can be found at:

As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the world, it is causing widespread concern, fear and stress. Even though these reactions are considered natural and normal, it’s important to know the danger signs and when to start seeking professional help. That’s why the Roodepoort Record contacted local counselling psychologist Ronel Carver from Westpsych Psychologists, to find out more about the psychological effects the pandemic has had on the average individual.

Ronel explained that over the last 18 months the pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on millions of lives across the globe. For many, the onset of the pandemic seemed sudden, and how long it would last is still unknown. Social-distancing measures have had a significantly negative effect on job security and certain sectors of the economy, and we have had to isolate ourselves from our friends and family, and avoid any sort of other recreational and social gatherings in general.

As a result, she said, people are facing more financial uncertainty, anxiety and stress, and are more worried than ever about their health and the health of their loved ones. At the same time, it has become harder to access mental health support structures. Family relationships and friendships are a vital source of support and stress relief for many. Research is now showing that prolonged social isolation is increasing rates of anxiety, depression and suicide.

"People are facing more financial uncertainty, anxiety and stress, and are more worried than ever about their health"

She went on to say that there are numerous ways one can cope with the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic. The first is to become informed about Covid-19 and what you can do to lessen your chances of becoming ill, and if you or immediate family members do become ill, what you can do to safely treat the condition at home, as well as knowing when to go to hospital. Ronel urges individuals to access reputable news sources and try their best to stay away from fear-based and conspiracy-type messages and videos, which only serve to increase anxiety, anger and upset.

“For families with children trying to work from home during the lockdown, it can be especially stressful and overwhelming trying to juggle multiple roles with less support. Focus on what you can control and plan for each day as best as you can, but you’ll also need to be flexible and gentle with yourself when things do not go as planned. Having a daily meditation, exercise and breathing practice will help tremendously with managing stress and anxiety.”

She went on to say that there are many videos online, and applications you can download on your phone to help with this.

Lastly, try to find new ways to access external social support and mental health resources. Make a habit of calling, video-calling and messaging loved ones and friends so that you still feel connected and supported. There are also many formal and informal online support groups if you are facing particular challenges. If you need additional support, don’t forget that many psychologists, social workers and counsellors are working online during the lockdown. There are also many NGOs and 24-hour call lines with compassionate counsellors available to assist in times of crisis when finances are a challenge.

“Focus on what you CAN control and do whatever is within your power to improve your situation. Self-care is also super important. Eat a healthy, balanced diet, get some fresh air, exercise on a regular basis, and sleep well. If you are working from home try to put together a daily routine to manage your working hours and other responsibilities. It is important to have routine

If you are facing lockdown alone, it can be especially difficult. According to Ronel it will help to make an effort to create a healthy daily routine for yourself, do as much of the things that make you happy as you can, and reach out to family and friends, or formal mental health support services when needed. Just a video call to a loved one or friend can make a world of difference.

“If you find yourself becoming unusually down or anxious more often than not, struggling to fall asleep or sleeping too much, losing interest in previously loved activities, eating too much or too little, experiencing chest or body aches that are unusual for you, struggling to concentrate or remember things, or becoming irritable and short-tempered it may be time to see your doctor or a psychologist for help,” she said.

“During lockdown people tend to put off appointments, but in the period after restrictions have been lifted it becomes very busy for us as psychologists. Anxiety, depression, burnout, suicidality, relationships problems and conflict, as well as career-related concerns in affected industries have definitely been the biggest issues. Young children and teens seem to have felt much more social anxiety and depression as a result of social isolation from their peers and families.”

She said those in the healthcare sector are especially burnt out and struggling, as those who are battling with the grief of having lost someone they love to Covid-19.

That’s why it is important to stay informed and take appropriate measures to protect yourself and your family during this time. The tricky part is making sure you access reputable news sources and not follow fear-based and conspiracy-based sources. If you find that certain messages and videos are increasing your feelings of stress, anxiety or hopelessness, try to delete such messages, or unfollow certain people or pages for your own well-being. “Let’s use this time to grow into better people and a stronger society. It is also important to be aware of those who are especially struggling during this time, and make an effort to help – whether it be financially, or just with compassionate actions and kind words. We are all being affected by the pandemic in some way".