By Susan Winter Fledderus
A pandemic touches every aspect of our lives. Not only does it change the ways we study, work, socialize and shop, it complicates everything else that we are already dealing with.
With so many of our usual community resources, spiritual networks, family routines and personal coping strategies affected, it can sometimes be difficult to know where to turn for help when we need it. The following includes some resources that might be a place to start.
Kids and Families
Parents are suddenly finding themselves full-time caregivers to restless kids, not only trying to fill their academic needs but also answer their questions and address their anxieties about COVID-19. At the same time, they need to manage their own stress and anxiety, as well as juggling work if they are fortunate enough to still be employed and able to work from home. For people feeling the pressure to be productive during this time, here is some encouragement to be more realistic about our expectations.
Here is a great article with ideas about how to help children maintain a sense of safety when the world is feeling less secure. Caregivers of older children and youth also need ideas about how to provide information and a calming presence to help them with anxiety. Stories like this one help young children understand more about COVID-19. An online book called Am I Safe? can help parents and children talk together about anxiety and fear.
Coping with Isolation
Those living on their own are having to adjust to huge gaps in their social lives and the loneliness that accompanies it, and become very intentional about creating meaningful connections virtually. Check out this article for ideas about The Art of Socializing During a Quarantine.
For those whose employment and housing is at risk, and for those already living on the streets, the risks are even greater. As this Maclean’s article points out, it is very hard to stay home when you have no home. Consider supporting your local Salvation Army or other shelters which are working hard to create safe spaces and acquire health supplies for staff and residents.
As Prime Minister Trudeau said in a recent address, for many now having to stay at home, home isn’t always a safe place to be. Professionals are also raising concerns that the need to stay at home under stressful situations will likely increase the incidence of child abuse, and domestic abuse, and there is evidence to show that it already is.
If you are experiencing domestic violence in Ontario, check out the Assaulted Women’s Hotline online, or by calling 1-866-863-0511 or (toll free TTY: 1-8666-863-7868) or #SAFE (#7233) on your Bell, Rogers, Fido or Telus Mobile to get information about services in your community. As well, ShelterSafe.ca and provincial 211 websites as well as your local municipal website all offer information on emergency shelters and transitional housing.
For seniors experiencing elder abuse, the Senior Safety Line can be reached toll free at 1-866-299-1011.
It is important that we support our young friends and neighbours, and sometimes that includes making the tough choice to call Children’s Aid when we suspect a child is being abused or neglected. Use this website to find your local Children’s Aid Society in Ontario.
Existing emotional and mental health issues can be heightened as stress, fears and anxiety increase. Isolation and inability to access natural antidepressants like nature, exercise and social events can cause depression to loom larger, while exposure to tragic scenes from around the world add further sadness, pain and hopelessness for those with pre-existing depression.
Many mental health services are experiencing higher demands, at the same times as having to quickly change the way they offer services. In some places, hospitals have cancelled face-to-face services with psychiatrists or mental health specialists for which people have been waiting for months.
Crisis lines are seeing significant increase in calls in Hamilton and across Canada. All of this is leading to a renewed call for additional resources for those experiencing mental health emergencies.
A professor in Toronto has created a free online course to help people manage their mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. We can also do online learning and skill building for managing mild to moderate anxiety and depression through a free CHMA program called Bounce Back.
Other psychology resources are available to help us cope with uncertainty and anxiety including this article with 7 strategies to cope with coronavirus anxiety, and this one for those who have pre-exisiting health anxiety.
Registered psychotherapist Sharon Ramsay offers tips on mental and spiritual health in a challenging time in recent podcast entitled Peace in the Pandemic. The online magazine Sojourner’s, offers ideas for spiritual care, including articles about managing our spiritual health during times of social isolation, and observing Passover during the pandemic.
And don’t forget the importance of caring for your soul as we deal with additional layers of grief and feelings of powerlessness.
There are some helpful collections of mental health resources online, including this one at takecare19.com which has a large selection of links to articles and resources ranging from mindfulness to being active at home and how to access talk therapy.
This article has ideas for how to stay physically and mentally healthy despite social isolation. This psychologist’s blog has an extensive list of strategies for maintaining mental wellness during quarantine. For good mental health self-care, here are some questions to ask yourself every day to help you maintain good routines and healthy coping strategies.
An there are a number of online and phone resources for those who need to talk to someone for extra support, or to get through a crisis:
- Crisis Services Canada: 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645; 1-866-277-3553 (from Quebec).
- First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line: 1-855-242-3310.
- Native Youth Crisis Hotline: 1-877-209-1266.
For a list of additional crisis resources across Canada, go to https://thelifelinecanada.ca/help/call/.
And if you aren’t sure you can keep yourself or a loved one safe from suicide or violence, call your local crisis response service, such as COAST in Hamilton, or call 911 for immediate help.
Email and other forms of electronic fraud and new scams are increasing, and those who are being quickly forced to learn new technologies to connect with banks or government websites may be particularly vulnerable. This government website has information about current scams and how to report fraud.
Giving and Receiving Help
As difficult as all of this is, adversity can also bring out the best in people. Some families are settling in to new routines that include board games previously gathering dust on the shelf, and new experiences that give a silver lining to this era of physical distancing.
There are countless stories of people shopping for neighbours and developing new relationships while caring for the seniors in their communities. In fact, a movement of caremongering has taken off in Canada, even making headlines internationally. This CBC article gives some ideas about how to safely connect to give or receive help in your community.
This is only a small sampling of the resources available, so keep asking and searching for the things you need. And if you call a resource once and the line is busy, try again—your needs are important!
As we know, resilience during a pandemic, as in any other time, has more to do with our ability to access resources around us than our own internal fortitude. So, let’s pull together, reach out for help, take care of each other, and weather this difficult time together.
Susan Winter Fledderus is a Clinical Therapist with Shalem Mental Health Network