Latest episode of #DearWorldLive focuses on preserving mental wellbeing as pandemic continues to grip the world
Safeguarding jobs, providing the public with clear governmental guidance, and avoiding using the phrase “social distancing” have been marked out as key to avoiding people’s mental health plummeting across the world amid COVID-19, during an online discussion staged by Qatar Foundation’s Doha Debates.
Coping With The Crisis: Mental Health and COVID-19 – the theme of the latest edition of Doha Debates’ #DearWorldLive series – saw a University of Oxford academic whose work focuses on human wellbeing warn that, after a period of early resilience, people’s mental state may now be starting to decline with no end to the pandemic currently in sight.
Dr. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, an economics professor who has won accolades for his contributions to the scientific study of happiness, told the show: “In the first month following the lockdown, people adapted, and we were quite resilient.
People are now coming to terms with the idea this is not going to be a V-shaped recovery where we sprint back to the old normal.
“However, the latest data shows we are now at an inflection point where we are muddling through, and there are the first signs of things pointing downward again, partially driven by people being fed up. I think that’s because people are now coming to terms with the idea this is not going to be a V-shaped recovery where we sprint back to the old normal.
“People are fearful about what will happen in the next few months and governments are not being clear on this. This raises uncertainty and psychological instability, and we could see a general decrease in our mental health and wellbeing without government guidance on what to do, what is right, and what is wrong.”
According to Dr. De Neve, the importance of retaining jobs “cannot be stressed enough”, as he said” It’s not just the income loss that matters when people are being made redundant – it’s the loss of routine, self-esteem and social identity, and the social network of a work environment.
People struggle with negative thoughts, especially if they have a very loud ‘inner critic’ – the voice in your head that puts you down for no apparent reason.
“We also need to change the wording and start to say ‘physical distancing’ rather than ‘social distancing’. The notion of ‘social distancing’, from a mental health and wellbeing perspective, could not be more poorly chosen. In times of crisis, we have to rely on the quality of our social relationships and social capital, re-appreciate them, and reinvest in them.”
The #DearWorldLive discussion – moderated by Nelufar Hedayat – also included psychiatrist, writer, film-maker, and entrepreneur Dr. Kamran Ahmed, who specializes in treating mental issues. He told the show he has seen patients “severely anxious about catching the virus”, struggling with losing jobs and businesses, and grieving for loved ones.
“In psychiatry, there is the idea of defense mechanism – unconscious ways of dealing with difficulty – and they include creativity and altruism,” he said. “People can be inclined to help others as a way of helping themselves through this.
We need to recognize how the imprints of an experience like a global pandemic will remain long after the crisis is over – there will be a long-term fallout
“But the challenges of being alone in lockdown are significant. People struggle with negative thoughts, especially if they have a very loud ‘inner critic’ – the voice in your head that puts you down for no apparent reason. I encourage people to take this opportunity to challenge that inner critic and test what it is telling you, because it can hold you back.
“We should also keep following the health advice we are given, because doing things that we know will protect us will make us feel better. We should limit the amount of information we consume about COVID-19 because it can become overwhelming. And it’s important not to be hard on yourself – if you are feeling anxious or worried you are not being productive, it’s OK, because this is a difficult time.”
People should look at this as a time for self-learning and self-growth – although life may seem on pause, it is not necessarily a pause on yourself
Emmy Award-winning writer and speaker Suleika Jaouad, a cancer survivor, told #DearWorldLive: “We need to recognize how the imprints of an experience like a global pandemic will remain long after the crisis is over – there will be a long-term fallout, and we need to give people space and give a language to the very real hardship people are experiencing.
“It’s important to focus on acts we can do beyond our own lives, in the service of others, and take precautions to protect our mental and emotional wellbeing just as we take precautions in terms of staying at home. The temptation is to focus on physical illness without also focusing on the more holistic impact of this pandemic.”
And Dana Al Ali, a fourth-year medical student at Qatar Foundation partner university Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar, said: “People should look at this as a time for self-learning and self-growth – although life may seem on pause, it is not necessarily a pause on yourself.
“We should try to take this time to learn more about ourselves and reflect on what we have seen to become stronger. We call it post-traumatic growth, which is a form of connectiveness and togetherness. There are no sides in this pandemic – we are all on the same side, battling the same thing.”