caring for your mental health during the global pandemic - Caring for your mental health during the Global Pandemic

The 3rd wave of the COVID-19 outbreak is pushing many people to their limit, financially and psychologically. It is even worse for people who have a preexisting mental condition.

The 2020 suicide rates in Thailand went up to 7.3 per hundred thousand of the population, with three main factors involved; personal relationships, chronic mental or physical illness and financial stress, according to Dr. Pornpimol Wipulakorn, Director of The Department of Mental Health.

The latest movement restrictions, aimed at controlling the outbreak, bring a lot more anxiety with them. People wonder whether they have contracted the virus, or are their symptoms merely allergies or flu. People are anxious about infecting others, if they are unknowingly infected, and anxious whether other people will infect them. People question whether what they have been doing so far is enough.

Nisachol Tangsakul suffers from chronic depression and is bipolar. She said that her condition got worse and less stable because there is more to worry about. Other than worrying about personal issues, she stresses over how to live safe and COVID free.

Nisachol, an owner of a family cafe in Charoen Krung district, told Thai PBS World that it was very confusing during the first outbreak. First, the news reported that it was a virus with symptoms similar to a cold, it wasn’t extreme, hard to contract. Then, it spread around the world and killed many people. She said she was unsure how careful she should be and what measures she should adopt in her coffee shop, which was popular among foreigners. The stress led her to a mental breakdown, unable to sleep and constantly worrying whether she had contracted the virus.

Her doctor was not being too helpful either. She said she was told to “not to worry so much because it’s difficult to contract COVID-19,” which is, however, not very reassuring.  

Nisachol also said that, when the 3rd wave emerged, she felt helpless, felt that what she was doing wasn’t enough. She has to be more careful, because the outbreak is getting worse, the economy is getting worse. She feels under great pressure.

The rising infection rate and death toll made her feel even worse. She said she tries not to do anything or go anywhere that risks infection, and tries not to think too positively. She said, if she were to think in a positive way, she’d let her guard down.

Dr. Kulvadee Thongpibul Psy.D, a Clinical Psychologist at the Merak Clinic of Samitivej Srinakharin Hospital, gave Thai PBS World some advice on how to cope with the stress and take care of our mental health during this crisis. 

There are many techniques which can help you relieve stress, through self-regulation, such as breathing techniques or the “name it and tame it” technique, being more aware of what’s bothering you, identify those emotions and taming them by taking appropriate actions. 

Another exercise you can do is to focus on things you can control, such as being in isolation or limiting your social media intake.

Dr. Kulvadee added that reframing your mindset is also key. Instead of thinking you are stuck at home, think about how safe you are at home. Having self-compassion and being nice to yourself are also helpful ways, which can get you through these difficult times.

When COVID-19 first broke out last year, we saw Thais making the best of being stuck at home, from air fryer Facebook groups to our friends debuting as dancers on TikTok. This time, however, Dr. Kulvadee advised trying new activities, which they may have put off, even self-care, like exercise, can be a great help.

Another great activity, to make people feel more productive, is to take online courses, but do not forget another important factor, which is maintaining a connection with people you can’t meet face to face. It could be through Zoom dinners, where you sit down in front of your camera and eat as a group online.

If, however, these techniques or activities still don’t help, if you are feeling under the weather and notice ‘red flags’, such as too much or too little eating or sleeping, low energy levels, melancholia or getting easily irritated by little things, or just taking no interest in your favorite activities anymore, it may be a good time to get help and consult a professional.

By Stephanie Adair

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