Master Minds: Managing Mental Health during the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first nor will it be the last time that our world has been confounded by the loss of life and the devastation of economies because of infectious disease. Yet history has shown that we have and will get through this, together. The earliest recorded pandemic was 430 BC in Athens, Greece, during the Peloponnesian War, which was a key factor in the Athenians being defeated by the Spartans. In 1492, the arrival of the Spanish in the Caribbean led to the death of 90% of the local population from measles and the Bubonic Plague. In fact, when Christopher Columbus arrived in Hispaniola, the Taino population was 60,000, but by 1548 the population was devastated to just 500 people.

Over the centuries, countries have been able to strategically join resources to enhance our response to pandemics through the development of genetic research, in particular vaccines as well as improved physical and mental health care practices. Today, as we enter a new phase of community spread locally and the continued rise of cases globally, many of us are experiencing extreme anxiety and stress. We are concerned about our health, our jobs, our children and our parents, and this daily strain has led to a rise in mental health issues. Thankfully, we have a parallel health care system that is managing the uptick in cases, but apart from our physical ailments, many of us harbour mental scars.

Here are some tips for employers to manage mental health during the pandemic:

• Manage expectations:
Managers/Supervisors need to balance their regular work-related expectations of employees and show greater empathy toward those who may be having difficulty coping. Find ways for them to have more flexible, accommodating schedules, perhaps allow them to work from home, if possible. Also, since our schools are now having virtual classes for this upcoming term, parents, especially single ones, may need more flexible hours of work.

• Check Yourself:
Share resources and encourage confidential, one-on-one conversations that speak to issues of being overwhelmed or depressed. Share mental health websites and resources so that you and your team can access these materials. Develop a check-list so that you can help manage stress levels. Ensure that you have confidential conversations with those who feel overwhelmed or depressed and refer them to professionals when needed. You may want to invite health care professionals to have virtual monthly coffee morning sessions on mental health or show a video on the issue.

• Encourage Leadership:
There’s a need to become more adaptable and even review company rules and policies during the pandemic. Once again, I’d suggest frequent and varied communication – with team members supervising the way ahead by encouraging others to also take responsibility by developing new coping mechanisms and strategic solutions.

In general, maintain a healthy lifestyle through exercise and nutrition. Reach out to others, friends, family and neighbours. We are a close-knit society that is founded on strong sense of family and community, whether it is a home-cooked Sunday lunch, beach lime or river cook-up. Now with beaches, cinemas, restaurant dine-in closed yet again, these months of self-isolation have upended many lives. However, stay in touch by reaching out through video and phone calls, as well as virtual chats. Although you should limit time spent on news on the pandemic and try to relax by reading books and magazines, seek information from reliable sources and avoid rumours and unverified articles.

What this pandemic has underscored more than ever is how closely connected we all are as a country, archipelago and world. We are all in this together and we can only move forward as one.

I would recommend the PAHO website; as well as
Ministry of Health Trinidad and Tobago:
World Health Organization:
National Alliance on Mental Illness:

Look out for the next instalment in our series on mental health during COVID 19 where we talk about the lasting effects for those recovering from the virus on brain function, as well as helping children cope in the new normal.

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