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Don’t let the mental health impact of the lockdown go unnoticed



In a time where physical wellbeing is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, we need to remember that mental health is just as serious as the entire country endures the beginnings of a 21-day lockdown.

According to Craig Comrie, CEO of Profmed Medical Scheme and passionate advocate for mental health issues, the stress that this lockdown is going to put on us is going to be greater than we imagine, but we can do something about it.

“At Profmed our stats show that mental health issues are becoming more prevalent in the younger population,” says Comrie. “The greatest increases in treatment for short and long term mental illness is amongst our members aged 18 to 35 years. This is due to long term stress attributed to environmental factors such as pressure on finances brought about by unemployment or under-employment.”

In this time of lockdown, Comrie advises that we all need to be more aware of others who show signs of depression, anxiety and mental disorders like bipolar and schizophrenia.

“For these groups, people are going to feel even more isolated. If you know someone that needs support, please talk to them regularly, where necessary encourage them to engage with their psychologists and counsellors and during isolation, use safe channels like a digital platform. Profmed, like many other medical schemes allow members to utilise digital consultation services which can be claimed from your available day to day benefits.”

Comrie is more concerned about people who have an underlying mental illness. He believes that this period of isolation may be the trigger to bring anxieties to the surface. “The Covid-19 will touch everybody in some way, those who are infected and those who fear all the uncertainties of this pandemic. We need to be more sensitive and empathetic to others who often need more than just a “like” or a “how are you”. Anxiety and mental illness is not just their burden any more. We also need to be aware of maintaining our social circles and getting closer than we already are.”

In a digital age, one might ask the question: Are we not too close to each other already? Comrie argues that our social circles may have increased in numbers, but they have certainly decreased in the depth of relationships that we have. “We have built these digital avatars that aren’t quite who we are. How many of your 300 Facebook friends are close enough to provide support on a personal level?”

During this time of isolation, Comrie urges us to find new ways to deepen and maintain closer relationships through digital platforms. “When isolation anxiety strikes, social support will become so important. Arrange daily check-ins with family and friends. Be more transparent about how they feel and others will respond with in a more genuine manner. Share how you are feeling about your changing routines, what has helped you cope and ask questions such as, how are you sleeping? Are you feeling anxious at all?”

Then there are the thousands of South African professionals out there who have been rudely torn from their daily routines at work where they were accomplishing tasks and creating value for their respective organisations and business ventures. “Many professionals are going to feel lost as their normally busy lives are turned upside down. But there other ways to keep busy and add value. I loved the recent comment from the New York Mayor who said that for the first time he is spending hours in deep conversations with his daughter and so cherishing this special time between the turmoil”.

Comrie suggests that Professionals can redirect their energy and skills into their communities. Whether it’s an online forum of their neighbourhood WhatsApp group or raising the awareness of small businesses struggling during Lockdown, there are so many opportunities to help others in this time of need.

“Professionals are primed to start accomplishing more within their communities,” says Comrie. “Plan your day, be self-sufficient and then see how you can help others. You will be amazed how your personal network of influence can grow and effectively become lasting relationships for the future.”

Whether you have a pre-existing condition or not, if anxiety arises and you start to feel your mental fortitude unravelling, Comrie advises seeking the advice from a friend, family member of a professional counsellor or psychologist. “If you have a medical aid, most schemes are covering digital consultations, so don’t let your mental health spiral out of control. Seek the help you need. Your medical aid will support you all the way.”