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Kevin Fraser on the COVID-19
Kevin Alexander Fraser BSW, MSW, RSW, RCC
Kevin has been working in the Mental Health & Addiction Field for more than 2 decades as a clinician, administrator, clinical manager, educator and consultant. During this time he has continuously demonstrated his dedication to exploring how clinical systems and services providers can reorganize to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of clinical interventions and responsiveness to population needs. Much of this focus has been recognised at both provincial and federal levels. Kevin has presented at numerous national conferences and have been solicited as a key note speaker for a provincial addiction conference and has served on the faculty of the Centre of Addiction & Mental Health (CAMH) providing counselling training to physicians, pharmacists, nurses and therapists within Atlantic Canada. He has led initiatives that have been awarded leading practice by Accreditation Canada and have designed new treatment models that have been adopted by numerous sectors. Kevin and his wife relocated from Nova Scotia to BC in 2014. Kevin’s indigenous ancestral lineage is rooted in Mi `kmaq of the Southwestern Acadian peninsula.
The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is understandably going to be followed by stress to our nervous systems that has the potential to exceed our capacities to cope. Fear, uncertainty and anxiety about the virus and its implications for all can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in for people of all ages. Learning how to protect and preserve your own mental health during this difficult time will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger and better off.
Not everyone deals with stress the same!
How you respond to this pandemic will likely depend upon on your current health status, history coping with stress, financial, family and relational supports and the community in which you reside.
Stressors in the midst of an outbreak can include some of the following:
• Constant fear and uncertainty about your own health and the health of your loved ones
• Changes in leisure activities and eating patterns
• Trouble sleeping and/or concentrating
• Worsening of chronic health problems
• Increased use of alcohol, gambling, tobacco, or other drugs
Making a priority to take care of yourself, your friends, and your family can help you cope with stress. Looking after one another builds strength internally and builds stronger communities.
Some suggestions for what we can all do to take care of our mental health:
It is important to remember that we all come from different backgrounds and not everything works for everybody. The below list may have things you are currently doing, have done in the past and/or are things you have been meaning to get around to doing. Now is the time to take seriously the need to find what is going to best support your mental health.
• Limit time from watching, reading, or listening to media stories, including social media. Constantly hearing about the pandemic can be quite upsetting and may serve to bring on more fear and stress then is warranted.
• Sharing the facts about COVID-19 and understanding the actual risk to yourself and people you care about can make an outbreak less stressful
• Develop a healthier relationship with your body. Notice your breathing by taking deep breaths, practicing mindful awareness. Stretching is also good to relieve stress.
• Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
• Staying in touch with traditional cultural practices such as beading, practicing language skills over the phone or other social media tools and staying connected with elders.
• Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy or have always wanted to do, like play the guitar!
• Know that mental health struggles are normal so don’t be embarrassed to reach out to a friend, family, community member or a health care professional
A message for parents
Our children primarily react in ways that are reflective of what they are seeing around them from adults in their world. When children see their parents, elders, caregivers and other community members respond to COVID-19 calmly and confidently, they can feel safer and less anxious. There will be a need for parents to be more purposefully reassuring and supportive to those around them, especially children.
Just like adults, not all children react to stress in the same way but there are some changes to watch for:
• Excessive crying or irritation in younger children
• Regressing to behaviors they have outgrown (for example, toileting accidents or bedwetting)
• Excessive worry or sadness
• Anger being acted out
• Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
• Irritability and “acting out” behaviors
• Attention and concentration difficulties
• Avoidance of activities once enjoyed
• Unexplained headaches or body pain
• Use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
Some considerations for parents to support their children:
• Make time to talk with your child about the COVID-19 outbreak. Answer questions and share facts in a way that your child can grasp.
• It will be important to reassure your child that they are safe and let them know that it is okay to feel upset and worried. Have an open conversation about how you are taking care of yourself and how they will be taking care of by you. Talk about how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.
• Limit your family’s exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand.
• As much as possible, keep up with regular routines. If schools are closed, create a schedule for learning activities and relaxing or fun activities.
• Be a role model. Take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Connect with your friends and family members.
A final note
This time of uncertainty is likely going to challenge for all of us to be our best selves. These are not easy times ahead, but we can all do our part to take the best care of ourselves, our families and our communities. Good mental health will be the most important protective factor so please make mental health your priority.