Maintaining Good Mental Health in These Times
Mental Health Counselor
All of us are experiencing some degree of stress as we deal with the current pandemic and this puts a strain on our mental health. Good mental health requires two basic things: safety and connection. The most basic challenge to our mental health is the sense that we have no control over what is happening to us and that we (and/or our loved ones), are in danger. This is literally the definition of trauma.
The way that we can deal with these types of traumatic challenges is to assert control over what we can control in order to maintain safety and connection and good mental health.
It may be useful to think of safety in three ways. The first is obviously physical safety and we are receiving evolving and sometimes confusing information about maintaining our physical safety which we need to adapt to as our understanding evolves but it’s useful to remember that our primary healthcare clinicians are filtering this information with our best interests in mind. I personally trust my doctors and nurses and they’re giving us the clear message to practice strict social and physical distancing and live as healthy a lifestyle as possible, with good food, exercise, sleep and routine. Following these recommendations gives me a sense of personal control over my physical safety.
Another form of safety is emotional safety. This is the ability to recognize, express and process the messages our emotions are giving us. This is a vulnerable process as we experience the sadness of losing aspects of our daily life for this time. We need the safe space to grieve these losses, just as we need the safe space to experience our anxieties, and sometimes guilt, anger, and even happiness. This can be difficult when we need to maintain a brave face in order to protect vulnerable loved ones so we need to find friends or professionals who can provide that safe place. In my experience, unexpressed emotion is at the root of much of the mental distress people bring into counseling. I have included a list of available resources for this at the end of the article.
A third form of safety is psychological safety, and this can be understood as needing to be heard, believed and valued for our thoughts, actions and existence.
All of these aspects of safety rely on connection. We are a social species that survives by connection and this is severely challenged right now. There are three types of connection that give resiliency and good mental health.
The first is connection to our self; our deep values and passions and sense of who we are, and this is informed to large part by listening to our emotions and bodily sensations and thoughts. Often we are working so hard to meet the expectations of others that we don’t listen to what we need to do to feel good about ourselves and it can be a challenge to listen to these inner voices when we are not busy with jobs and other social obligations but it gives us good sense of purpose and control when we start being and doing what we need to and want to, rather than what we’re supposed to.
The second is connection to the people we love, and that love us, with good boundaries to prevent abuse by those that only use us for their own needs and are not there for us when we need them. This does not apply to dependents, of course, where we cannot rely on a child or other vulnerable dependent to satisfy our needs. Those needs must be satisfied by other capable adults. This is challenged by the current requirement for social distancing, but people are using the phone and internet to maintain these social connections in novel and creative ways.
The third form of connection is to “something bigger than ourselves”, whether that be religion or personal spirituality or some other form of understanding our place in the big picture. This sense of connection gives us a feeling of personal agency and meaning which is comforting and empowering in difficult times.
If we tend to our human needs for safety and connection, we can maintain good mental health in these difficult times and beyond.
It is worth mentioning that some of the symptoms of deteriorating mental health include increased coping with substance use, disturbed sleep or eating patterns, emotional overwhelming or numbing, irritability, distraction and conflict. If you notice these or other disturbing changes in your life, it’s wise to address them at as early a stage as possible.
I continue to have phone appointments as well as virtual, online face to face sessions with clients who are patients of the Sharbot Lake Family Health Team. Appointments can be made by calling the office at 613-279-2100.
In addition, here is a list of community resources.
For anyone new to any of these services it is important to know that your privacy and confidentiality is protected by law with the only exception being a duty to report child abuse or potential harm to self or others.
for any health-related questions
www.southeasthealthline.ca or 310-2222 (no area code required)
for information on all health-related services in this area.
Canadian Mental Health Association helpline
Telephone Mental Health Support
KFLA Crisis Line
1-800-616-6005 or 613-544-4229
Kids Help Phone
1-800-668-6868 or text CONNECT to 686868
Enter “Big White Wall” in your search engine.
Anonymous peer support and online counselors
Enter “Bounceback” in your search engine or call 1-866-345-0224
for access to materials to help manage symptoms of depression or anxiety
Facebook group – “Care mongering Sharbot Lake, Area
Community Response to Covid-19
Specific Group Supports
Maltby Youth Mental Health
1-844-855-8340, or 613-546-8535
Rural Frontenac Community Services
613-279-3151 ext. 206
Support for Post-secondary students
1-866-925-5454 or text GOOD2TALKON to 686868
Good Minds-Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte
Mental Health and addictions through an indigenous lens.
Metis Nation of Ontario Addictions and Mental Health Programs
613-549-1674 ext. 307
LGBT Youth Line