Image of fence with signs saying 'don't give up', 'you are not alone' and 'you matter'

In SANE's COVID mental health series, SANE counsellor Tanya talks about the pandemic's impact on people living with complex mental health issues. She shares her tips on how to care for ourselves and others.

The COVID crisis is an unprecedented challenge for all of us. And if you're finding it confusing and worrying, you're not alone – it has caused increased stress, anxiety and fear for many.

For people already living with complex mental health issues, the impact of a pandemic like this can be significant.   

Physical and psychological impacts of imposed quarantine, self-isolation, physical distancing and separation from loved ones can exacerbate or trigger the symptoms of mental health issues.  

Anxiety disorders such as health anxiety, hoarding disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), agoraphobia and panic disorder can be particularly affected.

Caring for ourselves and others and spreading kindness is essential if we’re to get through this period as a community.

How to care for ourselves and others during COVID

Now more than ever, it’s important to learn or put into place strategies that will help us get through these tough times.

It's important, though, to remember that while the methods below can be useful in easing our stresses, it's completely normal to need more support. (Try reaching out to others in the SANE Forums, contacting the SANE counselling support, or accessing your existing clinical supports). None of us have experienced a global pandemic on this scale before, and we're all just doing the best we can to cope. 

Basic self-care

Don’t forget the basics of self-care:

Further reading: Ways to unwind and destress when you live with a mental illness, Treatments for mental illness, Mental illness & physical health, Self-help if you're feeling suicidal, and Coping with flashbacks  

Physical distancing, with social connection

Being physically isolated doesn’t have to mean that we’re cut off socially too.

Reaching out to people you trust is one of the best ways to reduce negative psychological effects from isolation.

Consider talking to someone outside your household at least once a day. You could try:

Stay informed, but limit media exposure

Ingesting large amounts of information can heighten feelings of anxiety. Ways to minimize the impact include:

Accessing factual information from reliable sources can help you feel more in control. Reputable sources of good quality information include: 

Further reading: Curating my online world

Caring for others

Try to offer support and check in on family members, neighbours, friends and colleagues – particularly those who live alone. Even just knowing that someone cares can be enough to dampen a person’s stress responses. 

Find opportunities to amplify positive and hopeful stories and positive images of people adapting to physical distancing. Examples include Couch Choir, Melbourne Digital Concert Hall, Coronavirus volunteer army, Snewpit app and Balcony singing in solidarity spreads across Italy.

Acknowledge that others are likely to be feeling anxious too. Try to avoid sharing sensationalizing news you may have heard when in conversation. Or perhaps ask someone’s permission before sharing unsolicited information with them. If they prefer not to engage with conversations around the virus at that moment, respect their boundaries.

Further reading: Families, friends & carers

If you (or someone you know) needs support, SANE counselling support is open Monday–Friday, 10am–10pm AEST/AEDT. Our team of counsellors are available by phone, web chat and email, so you can comfortably communicate in the way that feels best for you.

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If you'd like to chat with other people who understand, the SANE Forums are online 24/7. They're safe and anonymous, with counsellors and peer workers on hand to help if needed. 

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