The COVID-19 pandemic has exacted a heavy toll on the mental fortitude of people across the globe, causing trauma, stress and anxiety which are just as harmful as the coronavirus itself. Add this latest disaster to the lingering effects of the recent Hurricane Dorian and the stresses of everyday life, and urgency of finding coping techniques is heightened. For University of The Bahamas, nourishing mental and emotional health, particularly during times of crisis, is critically important. Many people grow more distressed because of the uncertainty brought on by crises. Coping skills and strategies are, therefore, essential, according to the Director of Academic Counselling and Advisement at UB Camille Smith. “It is normal for people to experience stress and emotional distress during periods of great challenge in their personal life,” says Mrs. Smith. “However, when that challenge also occurs in the wider local community, and then extends to a global pandemic, it is considered a compounded situation in which it becomes more likely that many will experience stress, emotional distress and even experience possible negative impact on their mental health.”
There were 96 COVID-19 confirmed cases, 11 deaths and 42 recovered cases as of 17th May, according to the Bahamas Min. of Health. In the weeks since the pandemic hit The Bahamas, thousands of people have lost their jobs and economic prospects have worsened. Conservative projections are that the country’s economy is expected to shrink by 14 to 20 percent in 2020. “The possibility of impending doom can have an impact on mental health because of the fear factor involved,” she explains. “Anxiety can increase, depression and despair may be triggered because of the possibility of catching the illness, and because of the news that so many people around the world have fallen ill, died, or are dealing with the impact of the illness in one way or the other.”
To cope with the new wave of stress, Mrs. Smith encouraged persons to engage in productive activities that engender a sense of purpose and joy and connect with people with whom they share a supportive relationship. Maintaining connections and assisting loved ones during trying times also supports good mental health. Other activities like exercising, meditation and mindfulness are highly recommended. “Practice self-care in ways that are still available to you,” notes Mrs. Smith. “Exercise in front of the TV/cable programme. Listen to your favourite music. Be indulgent in small ways. Eat your favourite food. Paint your nails yourself, or each other’s nails if you live with someone. Offer to give each other massages. Make food preparation special by adding an extra ingredient that you or a family member likes. Have a ‘hose’ party in which you spray each other or your children with water from a hose outside.”
Now that the pandemic has restricted social interactions and many people are working and learning from home, there are also other factors that could impact mental health and balance. Students and employees are advised to pay particular attention to coping techniques to manage this new norm. “If you are working online or doing schoolwork online, set a schedule to pace yourself, with small step goals, so that you can feel a sense of accomplishment at each small step. This can help you to feel as if you can tackle the big tasks and increase your sense of coping skills,” Mrs. Smith points out. The University community has been taking advantage of the institution’s network of counselling and psychological support, especially now. This support is in addition to the help that is available nationally including those offered by the Public Hospitals Authority and the Bahamas Crisis Centre. With the world still grappling with the effects of a pandemic and The Bahamas still at phase 1b in the five-phase reopening plan for the Bahamian economy, anxieties may extend for quite some time. Employing coping techniques could lessen the harmful impact.