The Malta Independent 29 July 2021, Thursday

TMIS Editorial: Mental health – there’s nothing to be ashamed of

Sunday, 20 June 2021, 10:00 Last update: about 2 months ago

The Malta Independent on Sunday today reports that, over the past few weeks, the health authorities saw a surge in suicide attempts, the majority of which were in some way linked to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Unfortunately, this situation was to be expected, and, in reality, it might take many more months, if not years, for the effects of Covid on our mental health to manifest themselves fully.

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The stark truth is that the pandemic has wreaked havoc on our lives – in many different ways, and different people have been affected to different degrees.

Covid-19 has affected us not only in terms of not being able to meet friends, go to restaurants or taking that much-needed vacation.

It has also brought about or accentuated many people’s feeling of loneliness. People who were leading happy lives before the pandemic suddenly felt lonely. Those who already felt lonely before got it much worse.

Covid-19 has affected our work lives – most of us have had to adjust to a new reality of working from home, losing the socialisation that comes with going to the office, and our daily sense of purpose and order.

Many have been hit financially – losing great chunks of their income, if not their job.

Relationships have been hit too. Those who lost their relationships during the past year and a half found it more difficult to move on for a lack of options with which to distract themselves. Those who were single when the pandemic hit found it more difficult to meet someone new.

The effects are there for all to see. Between April and May last year, more than nine in every 10 people experienced feelings of loneliness. Admissions to Mount Carmel Hospital doubled in a week during that same period. Meanwhile, calls to Richmond’s support services quadrupled last year alone. 

And the fact that we could be in the final stages of the pandemic – the slow returning normality helped by the vaccination drive – could present new problems in mental health.

This has been termed as post-Covid re-entry anxiety. It is a fear of changing our lifestyle once again, of adapting to a lifestyle we abandoned a year and a half ago.

Many of us have closed up, stopped seeing friends and doing the things we love, and the thought of going back to that could be distressing. Some of us might have gotten so used to the current situation that going back and ‘disrupting’ our lives once more could feel like it is too much to handle.

Some more introvert individuals could have found solace in the knowledge that everyone was in the same boat during the peak of the pandemic, and now they will be ‘left behind’ once more. Seeing their friends post photos of their restaurant and beach outings, or going on vacation, could make them feel worse about their own situation.

The authorities acknowledge that Covid-19 will have significant effects on people’s mental health and have already started to beef up services in this regard. A number of mental health clinics have already opened their doors and both the government and the Opposition plan to close down Mount Carmel Hospital and build a new state-of-the-art mental health hospital.

Focusing on cure is good, but so is focusing on prevention and, in this regard, we are still lacking.

Our current mental health strategy needs to be tweaked to take the effects of the pandemic into account. We need to acknowledge that the pandemic will have created ‘new’ patients who would not have found themselves in such a situation had Covid never existed. For others, the pandemic could have brought about mental health issues much earlier on than they would have experienced had we never gone through this crisis.

Unfortunately, mental health remains a taboo for many – admitting that help is needed is considered to be a sign of weakness by a lot of people, when it is anything but.

Perhaps this is where efforts need to be made. We need to instil in people, at a very young age, that feelings of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed of.

Going to a therapist does not mean you’re damaged. It doesn’t mean you’re less of a person than anyone else. To the contrary, it means that you’re strong enough to acknowledge that you’re just like the rest of us and that this is what mental health professionals are there for – to help us.

It is up to us to be strong enough to admit it when we need help, and to seek help. It is also up to us to be there for those around us who might be going through very difficult times, to listen to them, to not judge them, and to guide them towards the care they need.

 

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