During these unprecedented times, when billions of people are either obliged by law or strongly advised by governments to stay at home and not go anywhere, mental health is an issue which is sadly very often neglected.
Of course, the first and most important problem that our planet faces is the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and the thousands of lives it has claimed.
However, at a time when people are stuck at home and their only ”escape” is television programs, radio broadcasts and the internet, what one watches and listens to becomes of great importance.
Who hasn’t said at least once over the last several weeks ”Oh, God, I wish this would be over soon”?
Listening to the news nowadays is not only a deeply frustrating and disturbing experience, but it also makes people anxious about their own safety, as well as the safety and wellbeing of their loved ones.
Greek Reporter decided to ask the opinion of an expert about the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the mental health of the general public.
We spoke to Nikolaos Alexios Sapkaris, a clinical psychologist who is currently living and working in Sweden.
Sapkaris emphasized that when it comes to health, we do not only talk about the physical wellbeing of an individual, but also his or her psychological, social, and work life.
”I’ve seen and heard so many doctors talk about health, but no one said anything about mental health, about the health of our souls,” Sapkaris explains.
In order to highlight the magnitude of the situation we find ourselves in at the moment, the psychologist brought up a real-life example, of what people must deal with in these times.
”Imagine now that you are 65 years old, you belong to a vulnerable group, you have heard that your friend and neighbor died from coronavirus a few days ago, and the state urges you to stay at home, because you’re in a high-risk group. You won’t only be afraid to go out for a walk; you’ll even be petrified to open your window.”
The Greek psychologist cautioned against the use of such terms as ”invisible enemy” to refer to the coronavirus, as this feeds the monster of generalised fear about what we’re dealing with.
”The unknown is always scary,” the clinical psychologist noted, adding that the terminology that is widely used by mass media and politicians is causing even greater anxiety and stress to people all over the world.
”People are even dealing with extraordinary dilemmas, of having either to take care of themselves or put themselves in danger,” Sapkaris noted, referring to the thousands of medical and other staff who struggle to balance between their professional and personal life during this pandemic.
”Others have relatives in hospitals with whom they have no contact whatsoever. I have real examples of incidents where people are calling me crying to ask for advice about what to do next,” Sapkaris states sadly.
”We are living an unprecedented situation and we do not know how to deal with the aftermath of it all,” Sapkaris says emphatically.
He added that one of the most important and vital aspects of our lives today is our right to go outside our home, and break our isolation, even for a few minutes a day.
Speaking about how older people in Sweden have adapted to the situation, Sapkaris said that ”when the sun shines, people will go out to absorb some vitamin D. Being able to go out is a vital necessity for them.”
This, of course, is an example of just how important it is for people not to stay indoors for extended periods of time, as this could worsen their mental health all on its own.
Sapkaris also expressed his concern about how long people in Greece will actually be able to obey the lockdown, as they have done so well until now.
”Taking into consideration our culture, and our way of life, for how many more weeks will the authorities in Greece be able to keep people indoors, especially at a time when there is no exact plan of an exit (from the lockdown)?” Sapkaris wondered.
”I can already see, talking on Skype with people, that the strict measures have a negative effect on people’s psychology,” he adds.
So what should we do? How do we cope with such a difficult situation?
Sapkaris emphasized the need for people to come closer to each other, not physically but mentally, especially during their time of isolation.
This would offer a great deal of reassurance to those who feel anxious about the crisis, Sapkaris explained.
”It’s a great time to talk to those who we haven’t spoken to for quite some time,” he added.
”People should remember that crises and bad times were always present in the cycle of life. Endurance is a stance of life, which we should all try to achieve,” he said, referring to how people should react to the overwhelming amount of negative news we are dealing with on a daily basis.
”Spreading catastrophic news around does not help, we all know that. At the end of the day, maintaining a positive attitude is always better than becoming negative about everything,” he said.
Finally, Sapkaris noted that these times offer a great opportunity for everyone to make a self-assessment and see what they would like to change in themselves.
This, in addition to the realization that physical distancing does not mean an emotional distancing as well, can help all those struggling with the consequences of the isolation and the country’s lockdown.
If you or anyone you know is showing signs of psychological and mental fatigue from the pandemic, you can read and follow the advice of the experts in Greece by clicking here or call 10306 to seek psychological support.