As WHO and health authorities all over the world act to contain the Covid-19 outbreak, advice on safeguarding mental health was developed by the UN health agency’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Use.
WHO’s guidance targets the general population; healthcare workers; health facility managers; childcare providers; older adults, care providers and people with underlying health conditions; and those who are living in isolation to try and contain the spread of the pandemic.
To start, the UN body stated that people should “be empathetic to all those who are affected, in and from any country” as it warned “against stigmatizing anyone who has or had the virus.”
It also recommended that people seek information updates only from trusted sources. “The sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel worried”, said WHO. “Get the facts; not the rumors and misinformation”.
The UN health agency also pointed out the benefits of helping others, including phoning neighbors or community members who may need some extra assistance. This is because “working together as one community can help to create solidarity in addressing COVID-19”.
Others tips were segregated to target specific populations.
Those who help others
- People should honor caretakers and healthcare workers… for the role they play to save lives and keep loved ones safe, WHO stated.
- The feeling of being “under pressure” by healthworkers is normal while emphasizing that stress is “by no means a reflection that you cannot do your job or that you are weak”.
- Healthworkers should rest sufficiently, eat healthy foods, get physical activity and stay in contact with family and friends.
“This is a unique and unprecedented scenario for many workers, particularly if they have not been involved in similar responses,” said WHO, with the reminder that “this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon”.
Those in charge
- Protect staff from chronic stress and poor mental health to provide them with the capacities they need to perform their duties.
- Focus on the longer term rather than short-term crisis responses.
- Team leaders or health facility managers are encouraged to deliver quality communication and accurate information updates to all staff.
- Consider the benefits of rotating workers from higher- to lower-stress functions, and in partnering inexperienced workers with those who are more experienced, to provide reassurance.
- Maintain the buddy system to “provide support, monitor stress and reinforce safety procedures,” WHO stated, advocating for outreach personnel to work in pairs and to “initiate, encourage and monitor work breaks”.
Those with children
- Help children find positive ways to express feelings, such as fear and sadness. “Children feel relieved if they can express and communicate their feelings in a safe and supportive environment,” the UN health agency maintained, encouraging that if safe, they be kept close to their parents and family.
- Regular contact with parents should be maintained, such as twice-daily scheduled phone or video calls.
Caring for the vulnerable
- Relay clear instructions in a concise, respectful and patient way (pictures may be utilized) when dealing with older adults and people with underlying health conditions who are vulnerable, as they may become more anxious, agitated and withdrawn during the outbreak.
- Engage their family and other support networks to provide information and help them practice prevention measures, including handwashing.
- When in isolation, stay connected and maintain daily routines, as much as possible.
- Keep things in perspective starting with avoid listening to or following rumors.
Pregnant, breastfeeding women
- Additionally, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) recommended that breastfeeding women who become ill should not be separated from their newborns.
- While there is no evidence that the illness can be transmitted through breastmilk, UNFPA urged mothers who are infected to wear a mask when near their baby, wash their hands before and after feeding, and disinfect contaminated surfaces.
- If a mother is too ill to breastfeed, she should be encouraged to express milk for the baby, while taking all necessary precautions.
In the end, “mental health and psychosocial support should be made available to affected individuals and their families”.