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Mental health resources ramp up for COVID

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Social isolation has become a common phrase over the past few weeks in the wake of COVID-19, and there are plenty of resources to cope with the effects of this isolation.

Trevor Haas, a mental health promotion facilitator for Alberta Health Services (AHS) in Hinton, says the current situation with COVID-19 is nothing they’ve ever faced and an important step for mental health is limiting the intake of information.

Focus on the direct daily updates on the situation from the Chief Medical Officer and the AHS website, he said. Helplessness and powerlessness are common feelings that people have very little control over, Haas explained.

People should focus on what can be controlled, and that is staying home and self-isolating.

“Feeling isolated, of course, and isolation is a difficult thing to cope with, we are social people.  So we need to rely on other sources, phone, Facetime, Skype, etc,” he stated.

To curb stress and anxiety levels, Haas encourages people to distract themselves. Focusing on in-house projects or taking the opportunity to tackle projects that have been put off due to outside factors can help as well.

“Daily exercise is very important to mental health and coping with anxiety. Youtube programs, develop this into your routine. Try new recipes we have not tried because we are too busy.  Think of all the things you wanted to do but did not have the time to do them, well now you have the time, take advantage of it,” he added.

Haas touched on a topic that may be difficult to cope with; grief. Acknowledging grief, accepting it, and using available support systems is the best way to deal with this emotion right now, he said.

“The issue right now is we just do not know what the future holds, how long are things going to change for us, are things going to be the same. There are a lot of ‘What if’s’, but best to focus on today and not tomorrow and accept tomorrow might be different [and deal] with it when tomorrow comes,” he stated.

Hinton’s Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) is also available as a contact to support the public. A member from the local FCSS shared a document from Harvard University on managing fears and anxiety around COVID-19.

It stated that while keeping up to date with official information, taking a break from watching the news and focusing on positive things is important as well.

Anxiety is an emotion that tends to seek out confirmation, it reads, leaving individuals helpless and overwhelmed. 

“Acknowledge your emotion with understanding, and then turn your mind to other things,” it states.

Focus on asking “what now” rather than “why,” the document said in another recommendation.

For more information on this and tips on managing fear and anxiety, reach out to FCSS.

Residents are advised to stay home, self-isolate if sick, and reach out to ask for help when needed.

“And know you are not alone, everyone is going through a lot right now. Believe it or not, there is comfort knowing you are not alone in this struggle,” Haas added.

Self-help options to understand and learn about coping strategies to deal with stress and anxiety can be found online.

An Alberta-based innovation, Text4Hope is an evidence-based tool that helps people identify and adjust the negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours a pandemic might be expected to provoke, Haas explained.

Text4Hope sends out a set of daily messages with advice and encouragement that are helpful in developing healthy personal coping skills and resiliency.

Text COVID19HOPE to 393939 to subscribe for free and receive ongoing supportive content.

The public can contact 211 for various needs where they will be redirected to someone who is best equipped to help with specific needs. Mental Health Intake can connect individuals with a therapist through the phone, call 1-844-817-5009. For those who have access to an Employee & Family Assistance Program (EFAP) can also reach out to that resource. 

The AHS website is updating everyday with resources and supports during this time.