The Covid-19 outbreak has not only drastically affected healthcare systems, major economies, social interactions, education, and almost every aspect of normal human life, but has also brought about unexpected, unprecedented, and rather sudden changes in our lives, which most of us were probably not ready for. On World Mental Health Day, 10 October, we find out how to deal with these circumstances and strive towards healthy minds and healthy lives.

With the increasing statistics of the coronavirus spreading, fear, stress, and worry are seen everywhere around us. The uncertainty of the future, unemployment, online education, and reduced social interaction and access to good medical care are issues that are constantly adding to our preexisting mental health concerns.

Mental health isn’t just the absence of mental illness. It extends to a more holistic spectrum of emotional and social well-being. Just as important as physical health, having a sound mind is extremely essential to living a happy, content, and fulfilled life. Today, modern life poses problems that one could never imagine decades ago. Stress, anxiety and other circumstances are affecting children and adults so much, that according to the UK charity Mind, one in four people are said to be affected with a mental health condition each year.

Thankfully, more of us are becoming aware of the mental health crisis we're living in and how practicing simple self-care and mindfulness exercises can help us deal with certain situations better. Although large scale organisations, universities, schools, and colleges are very actively practicing and promoting the importance of a healthy mind, research by Mind suggests that more than 80% of people who suffer from a mental health issue seek little to no treatment. This can be due to a number of reasons, ranging from the lack of awareness to the presence of social stigma, and the unavailability or limited access to professionals.

It’s okay to not feel okay!
Let’s first address the fact that many of us have been there. There are times when we feel stressed, anxious, upset, and low — normal human emotions that are more common than we think. The World Health Organization says there are 300 million people suffering from depression worldwide, while India, China, and the US are the most affected countries by anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Many of us view mental illness as a sign of weakness — which is not the case, as anyone can be affected.

As a society, as well as individually, we need to accept, encourage, and be empathetic towards people suffering from mental health conditions. Sometimes we also need to go further, listen, be non-judgemental, and compassionate towards those in need of support.

End the stigma by talking about it
Often at times, we judge ourselves for feeling a certain way even before society does. Being harsh on yourself, neglecting your feelings, and fearing discrimination can worsen your health. Recognising and acknowledging your emotions is the first step towards emotional well-being. It’s about time we normalise the existence of these conditions and put an end to the taboo around it. Consider talking about your fears more openly, or asking others about their worries, and encourage speaking with a professional if needed.

Why is seeking therapy important?
In the case of a serious physical illness, when we find symptoms, we tend to get immediate medical care or rush to a doctor. However, with symptoms like fatigue, sweating, increased heartbeat or palpitations, shallow breathing or weight loss occur, we tend to ignore them. Therapy is a fundamental method to help you deal with your issues and concerns. A professional can not only help to diagnose your problems but also assist in understanding their cause at a deeper level, so you can work on them from the roots.

How will reaching out to a professional benefit me?
Poor mental health can take a toll on your entire well-being. Stress, anxiety, and depression can affect you adversely in many ways, from physical symptoms to more subtle symptoms such as loss of interest and concentration or decrease in memory. Conversely, being mentally and emotionally healthy can further boost your confidence, increase your efficiency at work and school, and promote productivity.

Therapy can help you gain a deeper insight into your difficulties and help you grow as a person. It enables you to get clarity in your thoughts and helps you build a positive, healthy relationship with yourself and others. Reach out to a trained professional and encourage others to do so without feeling the burden of judgement.

How do I take care of myself?
The Covid-19 crisis has only added to our pre-existing stresses and worries. On a personal level, everyone can take some measures and incorporate a healthy lifestyle to prevent and deal with their concerns. This includes adding exercise to your daily routine, eating healthy, nutrient-rich food, getting adequate sleep, meditating, and setting healthy boundaries. Being mindful, assertive, empathetic, and especially being compassionate towards yourself and others is extremely necessary. We all suffer, feel inadequate, and often fail in many things in life. Accepting this as a first stage in the process of healing is important in order to work on our resilience and get back up, stronger than before.

Seeking therapy is recommended to help understand our feelings and work towards the betterment of ourselves and others. In the current scenario, although the mode of seeking therapy may have changed to some extent, more and more non-profit organisations and helplines are providing therapy for little to no cost. If you have concerns about mental health, reach out to seek help, speak with someone, or contact the Aga Khan Health Board.