Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19
The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) may be stressful for people and communities. Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children.
Kids Help Phone - Text TALK to 686868 or call 1-800-668-6868 to chat with a volunteer Crisis Responder 24/7.
CHIMO Helpline - Help is just a phone call away: 1-800-667-5005
Hope for Wellness Helpline – The Hope for Wellness Helpline offers immediate mental health counselling and crisis intervention to all Indigenous people across Canada: 1-855-242-3310
Government of New Brunswick / MindWell Partnership
It is natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief, and worry during and after a stressful situation. Everyone reacts differently, and your own feelings will change over time. Notice and accept how you feel. Taking care of your emotional health during a disease outbreak will help you think clearly and protect yourself and your family. Self-care during a stressful situation will help your long-term healing.
Reactions during an infectious disease outbreak can include:
- Fear and worry about your own health status and that of your loved ones who may have been exposed to COVID-19
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
Coping with these feelings and getting help when you need it will help you, your family, and your community recover from a disease outbreak.
Responding to disease outbreaks is both rewarding and challenging work. Sources of stress for emergency responders may include witnessing human suffering, risk of personal harm, intense workloads, life-and-death decisions, and separation from family. Stress prevention and management is critical for responders to stay well and to continue to help in the situation. There are important steps responders should take before, during, and after an event. To take care of others, responders must be feeling well and thinking clearly.
People with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment plans during an emergency and monitor for any new symptoms.
If you are a front-line health service provider and would like to contact a psychologist at no cost, please visit Canadian Phycological Association (https://cpa.ca/corona-virus/psychservices/).
Here are some important steps responders can take to ensure they are able to do their job and cope with challenging situations:
Preparing for a Response:
- Try to learn as much as possible about what your role would be in a response.
- If you will be traveling or working long hours during a response, explain this to loved ones who may want to contact you. Come up with ways you may be able to communicate with them. Keep their expectations realistic and take the pressure off yourself.
- Talk to your supervisor and establish a plan for who will fill any urgent ongoing work duties unrelated to the emergency while you are engaged in the response.
During a Response:
Understand and Identify Burnout and Secondary Traumatic Stress
Responders experience stress during a crisis. When stress builds up it can cause burnout and secondary traumatic stress. Recognize the signs of both of these conditions in yourself and other responders to be sure those who need a break or need help can address these needs.
Burnout – feelings of extreme exhaustion and being overwhelmed. Signs of burnout include:
o Sadness, depression, or apathy
o Blaming of others, irritability
o Lacking feelings, indifference
o Isolation or disconnection from others
o Poor self-care (hygiene)
o Tired, exhausted or overwhelmed
o Feeling like:
o A failure
o Nothing you can do will help
o You are not doing your job well
o You need alcohol/other drugs to cope
Secondary Traumatic Stress – stress reactions and symptoms resulting from exposure to another individual’s traumatic experiences, rather than from exposure directly to a traumatic event. Signs of secondary traumatic stress include:
o Excessive worry or fear about something bad happening
o Easily startled, or “on guard” all of the time
o Physical signs of stress (e.g. racing heart)
o Nightmares or recurrent thoughts about the traumatic situation
Use Responder Self-Care Techniques
Self-care techniques can help prevent and reduce burnout and secondary traumatic stress.
- Wherever possible, limit working hours to no longer than 12-hour shifts
- Work in teams and limit amount of time working alone
- Take a break from media coverage of COVID-19
- Write in a journal
- Create a menu of personal self-care activities that you enjoy, such as spending time with friends and family, exercising, or reading a book
- Talk to family, friends, supervisors, and teammates about your feelings and experiences
- Practice breathing and relaxation techniques
- Maintain a healthy diet and get adequate sleep and exercise
- Know that it is okay to draw boundaries and say “no”
- Avoid or limit caffeine and use of alcohol.
It is important to remind yourself:
- It is not selfish to take breaks
- The needs of survivors are not more important than your own needs and well-being
- Working all of the time does not mean you will make your best contribution
- There are other people who can help in the response
Responding to disasters can be both rewarding and stressful. Knowing that you have stress and coping with it as you respond will help you stay well, and this will allow you to keep helping those who are affected.
After a Response:
- Allow time for you and your family to recover from responding to the outbreak
- Ask for help if you feel overwhelmed or concerned