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Be deliberate about communicating: Social connection is more than just memes


Dr. Lucy Muturi is a consultant clinical psychologist at the Strathmore University Medical Centre. Her role involves providing psychotherapy care to Stratizens: During this period of the pandemic, she offers a few tips on how to take care of our mental health.

 The majority of us are not used to staying put in our houses and having minimal one-on-one social interactions for long periods of time. What practices can we take up in order to help us maintain optimal mental health?

 Make structure a part of your life: this means having a schedule so you have something to look forward to each day. Plan things you would like to do in this time frame; read x number of books, experiment with new recipes, acquire a new skill or perfect the one you have already embarked on.

Keep in touch with people. This means more than sending texts and sharing amusing memes. At this time what we need is communication that is more substantial. So make a call to a friend – hearing a voice has a bigger impact on feeling connected than words on a text. Use video call so you can then see each other. This can never replace one on one interaction but it is the better option when the ‘in person’ interaction is unavailable.

 How do staff members (or students) deal with working (or studying) from home when the environment may not be highly conducive – being indoors for long periods of time, having to look after children with a more hands-on approach as opposed to when at work/school, juggling chores at home and work/study, financial anxiety?

Be realistic about what you can and cannot do and accept this. Work with family members on the space and time needed to do work or attend to classes online. Distribute house chores. Keep the discussion going so that changes can be made as unforeseen obstacles become known. Have a sense of humour about things that go wrong and backfire. Insert time to relax and have fun in the schedule.

When working from home, there is an assumption that one is always available so it is good to communicate to work colleagues and supervisors when one is available and how to be contacted in case of a work emergency.

For those with children, structure always works for them; it makes life predictable and thus they feel secure. Encourage children to play as this is vital for their development. If an outside play area is not available, create a space in the house where they can play. This can be done by removing all breakables and not minding the mess the space will be in.

For those already dealing with mental illnesses (eg depression, bipolar, PSTD), what should they do to protect themselves from the tension and ensure that the covid-19 situation doesn’t aggravate their health? How do they deal with limited access to health care or therapy, medication during this period? 

Call your healthcare provider and find out how they are proceeding with services at this time. Those in the mental health field are a phone call away. Work with your service provider on ways to manage at this time as each case is different. In general terms, it is good to have a supportive circle of family and friends. Keep doing what previously had helped with the management of the disorder, that is, with medication and other skills taught by the service provider.

There’s a constant stream of alarming (and sometimes fake) news thrown at each of us and which we can easily access through social media, WhatsApp groups, news broadcasts etc. How do we deal with this?  

Limit exposure to news in general and when you do look for news, visit credible sources of information only. The same goes for live news reports; only view credible news houses and even then limit how much you watch or consume. Few people really need to spend more than half an hour on news. For social media get off it unless you are consuming all the comical memes out there. Laughter really is incredibly good medicine. It is all right to mute groups wherein members are sending scary or fake information; you really are not obliged to read every message that comes your way. With friends and family who may be sending fake or scary information it is appropriate to let them know that you would like them to stop.

In the case that we contract the virus or a family member gets ill, how do we deal with the situation in terms of mental health? 

Talk to the health worker and ask any and all questions you have about the disease, what to expect, what you can do and not do. Remember that the majority of those infected are getting better. Do what you are required to do and remind yourself that this is all really you can do. Acknowledge the fear of death, of losing someone you care for or rely on. Having acknowledged that fear, do what you would want to if the person were dying. One of the things that makes grief complicated is when there is unfinished business with the deceased, whether that be something someone wanted to say or do with the deceased.   We also need to accept the reality that we are all going to die one day and letting go is painful and never easy for anyone.