Understanding the mental health strain on families during lockdown

By Denese Reddy, facilitator and social worker, ACTIVATE! Change Drivers

People are so caught up in acquiring new skills under lockdown, or saving their businesses or just surviving, that they’re not acknowledging the mental health issues facing their children and families brought about by extended lockdown and isolation in the shadow of this COVID-19 pandemic.

The ability to be human was almost taken away from us and isolation was made ‘normal’. People were never meant to function in isolation, yet COVID forces people to isolate alone when they’re ill, go to hospital alone if they are very sick, and sadly, die alone. Our normal rituals are gone under lockdown; but so too are the rituals that make us essentially human – such as the rituals of grieving and burying our loved ones.

The impact the lockdown and isolation have on families

With international focus being on mental health in October, we need to understand the impact of this isolation and restriction on normal human interaction on us. We need to make more room for loneliness, depression and mental health issues in our families, workplaces, schools and communities.

Are we fully understanding the effects of isolation, of grief, or losing work and the gaps we’re hoping to live with; and what is happening to people around us in our communities?

There are some days when we’re not okay. When we can identify the issue, then we can start building. It requires self-reflection. And we hide around from that in social media, in TV, in keeping busy. People are afraid to be with themselves, they don’t want to deal with their issues.

ALSO SEE: The lowdown on lockdown’s impact on the social development skills of babies

We are being told to be alone and be safe. But normal human values still apply, such as love, kindness, helpfulness and purpose. I am saying build your connections in that process of being alone. Yes, it’s way harder remotely and requires an extra effort to connect and to help others or ask for help for yourself.

You need to ask; ‘How are you building yourself up? How are you building others? I have one word: elevation. How you elevate yourself to the next level and understand that this time could be a time of self-growth.

What happens about the new patterns we are forming now to survive?

Working from home brings other challenges. What you do now will form into a habit. It requires a consciousness, an intention, to do things differently each day. Are you able to shift, cope, and deal with what’s happening? It requires a mindset shift first; it requires being able to support oneself first and foremost; before we ask for professional support.

Look out for the signs

We understand all the COVID messaging, but it’s also making us, our children and our friends anxious; and we need to understand the dynamics of fear in our society. Which voice is louder? Is the fear louder than the ones about us looking after each other, and those more vulnerable in our communities? How are we being intentional about building resilience and character during this time, and creating behaviours and beliefs that can cope with the pandemic?

Those are the important questions we need to ask ourselves in order to build resilience and other coping mechanisms in our families. We need to watch our messages; we need to change the conversation in our families. Humans are built on this ability to fight or flight. Stress can be used for good or bad. It’s all about the interpretation of stress – that is vitally important. We can fear coronavirus and everything around it. We can either hide and run, or we can get up and fight it. People are busy surviving out there. And this is something we need to do for ourselves. There is more to existing in life, and to living with purpose. The first step is understanding what is bothering us. The next step is mental wellness and resilience.

ALSO SEE: Identifying emotions and other ways to help your kids cope with their mental health

Take positive steps

The positive steps to take are to create a network, even if it’s just one friend that can help you – we all need a support structure and an intimate network of two to three people who will build us up, help us, and listen. Society needs a mind shift; to understand what being ‘whole’ is; and what role our mind plays on our basic functioning, on our bodies and on our performance.

The whole world is going through this, in one form or another, and it does help that we’re not alone. But we’re still not talking enough about the mental health implications of lockdown and this pandemic. We are not seeing that messaging – we need to see messaging that we are strong, that we are resilient, that we will survive this, that we will get through this.

More about Denese Reddy:

Denese Reddy, facilitator and social worker, ACTIVATE! Change Drivers

Denese Reddy is a qualified social worker, who has worked in rehabilitating the disabled, in the mental health field and crisis management. She is currently a digital facilitator for the ACTIVATE! Academy, the eLearning arm of youth leadership NGO, ACTIVATE! Change Drivers.

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