Mental health guidance from the World Health Organization
Your patients and your colleagues may be struggling with feelings of fear and anxiety—and you too. The World Health Organization (WHO) has some guidelines to help.
WHO released "Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak" with advice and guidelines to support mental health during this public health crisis. We've recapped WHO's critical messages for health care workers, caregivers, and those in isolation.
Messages for healthcare workers
WHO encourages health care workers to remember that stress and anxiety are normal and not an indication of weakness or incompetence. Mental health is just as important as your physical health, and one often influences the other. For this reason, do the best to take care of your body during this time. Try to rest between shifts, eat well, engage in some exercise, and keep in contact with your family and friends. WHO advises that you employ coping strategies you've used in the past because "you are the person most likely to know how you can de-stress and you should not be hesitant in keeping yourself psychologically well. This is not a sprint; it's a marathon."
COVID-19 stigma is a rapidly-emerging social issue that impact mental health in the workplace. If you can, talk to your friends, family, and colleagues for support. Your colleagues are likely to be experiencing similar issues, and talking with them can help you feel less alone.
Messages for caregivers
You and your patients may be caring for children, elders, or people with underlying health conditions during the pandemic. It's essential to make sure these groups are cared for to help them stay both healthy and happy.
Those with children should provide a safe and supportive environment in which children can express their emotions. Kids need healthy ways to express any anger, fear, or sadness they have during this time. This could be a creative pursuit, like drawing or playing. Children should also stay close to their family if possible and have regular contact with family through phone or video calls. This helps instill feelings of safety and stability. Depending on their age, children may be more demanding of their guardian's attention or have questions about COVID-19. Guardians should answer these questions in age-appropriate ways and address the child's anxieties together. The calmer guardians are about the situation, the happier their children will be as well.
The elderly, particularly those with cognitive decline/dementia, may be more stressed than usual during this crisis. They need support from their family as well as any health professionals caring for them. If you care for an older person, share simple facts about reducing COVID-19 transmission with them. Be patient and concise when delivering this information, and do it more than once if necessary. Family and other support networks can help older people practice preventative measures such as hand washing.
Quarantine and self-isolation are especially important for those with underlying health conditions, so they may need to quarantine longer than others. This may cause increased feelings of anxiety or loneliness. Encourage these patients to find simple daily exercises to promote mobility and reduce boredom.
Children, the elderly, and people with chronic conditions will benefit from establishing routines to provide stability and prevent boredom. Routines should include daily physical activity and contact with loved ones—via phone, email, social media, or video calls. Exercise promotes mental health, as does contact with family and friends.
Messages for those in isolation
Your patients in isolation may be feeling incredibly stressed or bored. They should pay attention to how they feel and do activities they enjoy and activities that keep them healthy, like exercising and getting enough sleep. They should also make time to connect with family and friends each day.
Messages for the general population
Patients and providers can practice empathy and compassion towards others during this time of crisis. Avoid the use of stigmatizing language such as "COVID-19 victims" or "the diseased." Instead, use terms like "people who have COVID-19" or "people being treated for COVID-19."
Staying informed on the COVID-19 crisis is important, but WHO recommends that we avoid looking at the news too often, as this can cause additional anxiety. Try looking up COVID-19 information at specific times each day. Your patients should also prioritize practical guidance and informational updates from reliable sources over sensational media headlines and unfounded rumors. Look out for positive stories to share regarding COVID-19, such as stories of those who have recovered from it.