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// Information for Refugees

Mental Health Wellbeing during COVID-19

by Suaka Indonesia on 27/03/2020

This post was made in collaboration with the Refugee Trauma and Recovery Program – UNSW Sydney (http://www.rtrp-research.com/pathways-to-refugee-wellbeing-indonesia)

Maintaining your Mental Health well-being during the Pandemic

The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) may be stressful for people. Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Coping with stress will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger.

Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations.  How you respond to the outbreak can depend on your background, the things that make you different from other people, and the community you live in.

People who may respond more strongly to the stress of a crisis include:

  • Older people and people with chronic diseases who are at higher risk for COVID-19
  • Children and teens
  • People who are helping with the response to COVID-19, like doctors and other health care providers, or first responders
  • People who have mental health conditions including anxiety, depression or problems with substance use
  • People who have previously lived through situations of adversity

Stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include:

  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

To combat the negativity, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has released guidelines that aim to minimize the harmful effects the pandemic is having on mental health and wellbeing.

  1. COVID-19 has and is likely to affect people from many countries, in many geographical locations. Do not attach it to any ethnicity or nationality. Be empathetic to all those who are affected, in and from any country. People who are affected by Covid-19 have not done anything wrong, and they deserve our support, compassion, and kindness.
  2. Do not refer to people with the disease as “COVID-19 cases”, “victims” “COVID-19 families” or the “diseased”. They are “people who have COVID-19”, “people who are being treated for COVID19”, “People who are recovering from COVID-19” and after recovering from COVID-19 their life will go on with their jobs, families and loved ones. It is important to separate a person from having an identity defined by COVID-19, to reduce stigma.
  3. Minimize watching, reading or listening to news that causes you to feel anxious or distressed; seek information only from trusted sources and mainly to take practical steps to prepare your plans and protect yourself and loved ones. Seek information updates at specific times during the day, once or twice. The sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel worried. Get the facts; not the rumors and misinformation. Gather information at regular intervals, from WHO website and local health authorities’ platforms, in order to help you distinguish facts from rumors. Facts can help to minimize fears.
  4. Protect yourself and be supportive of others. Assisting others in their time of need can benefit the person receiving support as well as the helper. For example, check-in by phone on neighbors or people in your community who may need some extra assistance. Working together as one community can help to create solidarity in addressing COVID-19 together.
  5. Find opportunities to amplify positive and hopeful stories and positive images of local people who have experienced COVID-19. For example, stories of people who have recovered or who have supported a loved one and are willing to share their experience.
  6. Honor caretakers and healthcare workers supporting people affected with COVID-19 in your community. Acknowledge the role they play to save lives and keep your loved ones safe.

In addition to that, and if you need to be quarantined or need to self-isolate:

  • Maintain a normal daily routine as much as possible to help keep your spirits up. Maintain a healthy diet, sleep regime, and make time for some exercise.
  • Be prepared (e.g., develop a personal/family preparedness plan in case you are quarantined or need to self-isolate).
  • Avoid or reduce the use of alcohol and tobacco.
  • Stay connected with friends and family through social media and over the phone.
  • Use your time purposefully, for example, working from home or getting homework sent to you.
  • Take advantage of the time to do things that you’ve been wanting to do like reading a book or learning a new skill

Let children understand what is happening in their surroundings

Including your children in your family’s health care plan will lead to better understanding, counter the fear of the unknown, and help children and adolescents feel a sense of control.

  • Ask children what they have heard about coronavirus.
  • Provide age-appropriate, accurate information and clarify any misinformation or misunderstanding they may have.
  • Encourage children to share their concerns, and let them know that parents and teachers are available to discuss thoughts and feelings.
  • The way parents behave can have a significant effect on children. Keep conversations calm and focus on the facts. Emphasize efforts that are being taken to contain infectious diseases.
  • Model health-promoting behaviors for your children. For example, teach them to wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds – as long as it takes to sing the happy birthday song twice.
  • Educate the entire family about good health habits. Talk about what each family member can do to help others outside of the immediate family.
  • Include children in family discussions and plans, in an age-appropriate way.
  • Address any misconceptions children may have that could result in stigmatizing people or groups of people in the community.