As the province enters a 28-day stay-at-home order, the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit says there will be an increase in challenges for people’s mental health.
Tawnia Healy, community health promoter and mental health lead at the Health Unit, says feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation are to be expected during the lockdown.
“These are very normal reactions to the very abnormal situation we find ourselves in with the pandemic and the current shutdown,” she said.
For those who already live with a mental illness, Healy says the social isolation could impact people’s physical health.
“Social isolation has all sorts of negative health impacts and can even reduce life expectancy,” Healy said. “It’s important to stay connected however you can. Whether it’s contacting a helpline or connecting with a community agency by phone, it’s important to stay as connected as possible.”
As residents across the province are now discouraged against interacting with people outside your household, Healy says it’s important to maintain social connections by any means necessary.
“Maintaining social connections is possibly the most important thing you can do for your mental health,” she noted. “Planning regular phone calls, sending texts, writing letters are all great ways to stay connected. We are wired to be socially connected and it’s critical for good health.”
Healy says substance use is on the rise during the pandemic, which she says is a coping strategy for some and encourages people to explore other ways of coping. She suggests reflecting upon things that may have helped you through difficult times in the past.
Instead of self-medicating, Healy suggests reflecting upon things that may have helped you through difficult times in the past.
“That reflection can give you a recognition of your strengths,” she said.
Another healthy coping mechanism Healy suggests is creating a routine, adding many have had their daily routines disrupted by the pandemic.
“A routine can offer you a sense of control and provide purpose and structure to your day,” Healy said.
Within that routine, Healy recommends including social interaction, exercise, time outdoors and time for self-reflection.
“Often when we’re stressed, anxious or have low mood, we’re focused on the future or the past and we completely miss the small moments of our day,” she said.
With the COVID-19 vaccine getting rolled out in Ontario and seemingly brighter days ahead, Healys says to temper expectations.
“This time around, we certainly do have a bit of a light at the end of a tunnel in terms of a vaccine,” she noted. “I would encourage people to really take things day by day and not having a lot of expectations about what’s to come. Just gradually work on your mental health on a daily basis.”
The Health Unit has a survey available for residents to share their experiences during COVID-19, with a focus on mental health.
Healy says the results from the survey will better inform services provided by the Health Unit.