This year’s World Mental Health Day will take place on 10 October. The year first started with the coronavirus pandemic dominating all the news. Then, the economic impact set in, affecting businesses and employment. And lately, there have been lots of social impacts being felt - emotional distress, anxiety, suicides - just to name a few, not counting the death of loved ones. To date, there have been 36 million cases, including more than 1 million deaths.
To address mental health issues, the World Health Organization (WHO), together with United for Global Mental Health and the World Federation for Mental Health, have co-designed a campaign entitled “Move for mental health: let’s invest”. This is based on the premise that while mental health has gained more awareness in recent years, it has not received a fair amount of investment that it deserves. WHO will organise an online “The Big Event for Mental Health” on 10 October through its social media platforms.
What’s Happening in Singapore
Singapore has also seen its fair share of mental health news since April. With the outbreak of COVID-19 in the migrant workers’ dormitories, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) set up a Migrant Workers' Centre's 24-hour Helpline to refer serious cases to mental health specialists in hospitals. Additionally, a HealthServe hotline - providing medical information and tele-counselling sessions - has received more than 15,000 enquiries and helped more than 1,100 workers.
At a parliamentary sitting earlier this week, the Ministry of Health (MOH) through its Agency for Integrated Care has announced that it will review and develop community support services. MOM will also issue advisories for employers to improve mental well being in the workplace.
RUN Singapore got in touch with Enrico Varella, a 54-year old 23-time IRONMAN finisher including several appearances at the World Championships in Kona, and also a three-time Boston Marathon qualifier. Enrico has a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Psychology, a certificate in 'Psychological First Aid' awarded by the Red Cross Society Singapore, and practises Industrial Psychology in multinational corporations with a focus on corporate wellness.
Enrico shares his experiences in dealing with mental health issues:
As mental health is on the rise - due to health matters and stresses of unemployment, I have been assisting in online or face-to-face counseling. I offer a Listening role, and ask questions to lead them to their own options and solutions. We then agree on their next steps of commitment. I adopt a cognitive-behavioral approach for intervention. I use coaching as part of a facilitated approach. Acknowledging their values works well, as they can tap on their values such strength, resilience, persistence, tenacity and vitality. Coping mechanisms need to be fine-tuned. For cases of clinical depression, I would refer them to more capable resources.
Exercising seems to be a more reliable tool to keep them energetic and focused on more useful things. Being empathetic helps, yet we need to redirect the conversation to what they can do to manage themselves. Interestingly, having a conversation while running (at a slow pace) seems to work well, due to enhanced clarity of thought and mild distractions (away from useless matters).
Having frequent conversations that project care, respectfulness, encouragement and consideration sustains a positive outlook, optimism, and learning about how to cope with grief and loss.
Mental Health Tips from WHO
Set against the context of lockdowns and working from home in this current pandemic, WHO has introduced the following tips, adapted to Singapore’s context:
Keep informed. Listen to advice from our authorities and follow trusted sources.
Have a routine. Keep up with daily routines as far as possible, or make new ones. For example:
Get up and go to bed at similar times every day.
Keep up with personal hygiene.
Eat healthy meals at regular times.
Allocate time for working and time for resting.
Make time for doing things you enjoy.
Minimize newsfeeds. Try to reduce how much you watch, read or listen to news that makes you feel anxious or distressed. Seek the latest information at specific times of the day, once or twice a day if needed.
Social contact is important. If your movements are restricted, keep in regular contact with people close to you by telephone and online channels.
Alcohol use. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink or don’t drink alcohol at all. Don’t start drinking alcohol if you have not drunk alcohol before. Avoid using alcohol as a way of dealing with fear, anxiety, boredom and social isolation.
Screen time. Be aware of how much time you spend in front of a screen every day. Make sure that you take regular breaks from on-screen activities.
Video games. While video games can be a way to relax, it can be tempting to spend much more time on them than usual when at home for long periods. Be sure to keep the right balance with off-line activities in your daily routine.
Social media. Use your social media accounts to promote positive and hopeful stories. Correct misinformation wherever you see it.
Help others. If you are able to, offer support to people in your community who may need it, such as helping them with food shopping.
Support health workers. Take opportunities online or through your community to thank our healthcare workers and all those working to respond to COVID-19.
The weekend is here. Time to get active and improve your mental health!