Recovery from a mental health setback can be hard at the best of times, so how can we support people in maintaining momentum in their recovery with a pandemic going on? JOHN HARPHAM, provides invaluable advice for keeping recovery on track.
Everyone’s lives changed when COVID-19 spread across the globe and we’ve all had to adjust to a new way of living. Running alongside the obvious physical risks COVID-19 presents, runs the psychosocial risks, one of which relates to those people who may have a pre-existing mental health condition. For these people some may have already been off work as a result of their mental health, some may have been in the middle of lodging a worker’s compensation claim for psychological injury and others may have been in the midst of their recovery process. No matter what point in the recovery process, the anxiety and fear around COVID-19 can understandably exacerbate a pre-existing mental health condition and if not supported, recovery can veer off track.
So how can we identify if COVID-19 has halted someone’s recovery?
In anyone’s rehabilitation there are bound to be times when progress stalls or they begin to go backwards. COVID-19 is a new obstacle that can cause significant disruptions to the recovery of a client. So how can we identify if this is a contributing factor to the client’s recovery?
This can be difficult to determine as the barriers that COVID-19 are putting up may merge into the pre-existing barriers of the client. However, some of these setbacks can be clearly attributed to COVID-19 such as a worker who has been told that their job is no longer available due to a downturn in the business. Due to factors outside of the worker’s control they no longer have a job. The implications of this are far reaching and have impacts on the worker’s financial position, stress levels, and overall mental health. This can also have impact on the worker’s family and friends. In my own experience as a Rehabilitation Consultant I have seen two of the client’s that I work with (in different industries) lose their new jobs within days of the COVID-19 outbreak. They had worked extremely hard to find a job and when they commenced their roles they had no idea what was around the corner. This can be crushing for a worker who may begin to feel that they may never return to the workforce.
Maintaining social connections is critical in these times and it can be very easy for people to fall into poor habits. Sitting on the couch watching Netflix or spending hours scrolling through Instagram can seem tempting when staying at home is encouraged by the Government. However, by doing this people can lose social connections quickly. Not only the connections that we have with our workmates on a daily basis, or with our friends and family on the weekend, but the simple hello’s and thankyous that we say to the barista making our morning coffee or the Uber driver taking us home after a night out. When this social routine is disturbed then a client may have long periods of time when they are not communicating with others and so their social network is impacted.
The presentation of a client can also provide signs as to how they are progressing. Prior to the COVID-19 situation, a client who was attending treatment in person was required to get dressed, be presentable, and leave the house prior to commuting to the session. All these tasks seem simple however they do require the client to have a certain level of functioning (i.e., checking bus timetables and being prepared to catch the bus on time). If the client is now having treatment sessions at home then tasks such as getting dressed and preparing for the meeting may seem redundant to the client. If a client presented well-dressed and groomed prior to COVID-19 and is now attending videoconferencing sessions in their pyjamas then this may be a signal that their progress has stalled. Further to this, if a previously engaged client stops answering phone calls, responding to emails, or attending videoconference meetings then this may be a sign that their progress is deteriorating.
What are some of the things we can do to regain momentum in the recovery process?
So, what can we do about it and how can we gets things back on the right track? Here are a few suggestions that I am implementing in my life and I hope these help you too:
- Acknowledge that the COVID-19 situation will not last forever and it will pass. As a colleague of mine always says to clients experiencing difficulty, “we’re going through a valley at the moment however there is a mountain (high point) on the other side. Let’s not camp here, let’s keep moving forward.”
- Maintain a routine. For those who are working from home make sure you have a daily routine. This should include:
- getting up at the same time each day,
- getting dressed into business attire,
- set up a suitable area for you to do your work (i.e., quiet and away from distractions)
- schedule breaks
- reach out to your colleagues via phone or video call if you can
- have a clear signal that you have reached the end of your work day (i.e., at 5:30pm close the lid of your laptop and pack away work related items) so that you can start your ‘home life’.
- Keep up your social connections…responsibly. Ensure that you continue to communicate with your work colleagues throughout the day, ideally by phone/video calls. Also set up video calls with your friends and family and even have dinner at the same time!
- Have a supportive network around you. Life can be difficult at the best of times so it is important to surround yourself with positive people who are there to support you.
- Exercise, whatever way you can. Even with the current restrictions in place you can still get out and exercise. Whether this is going for a run, walk or working out it is important to maintain some type of exercise on a daily basis. You can even build in exercise to your weekly shopping by walking to the shop (cardio) and carrying the grocery bags home (strength).
- Limit your intake of social media and news. Find a reliable source and schedule some time (perhaps once per day) to take in some news so that you are remaining up to date but not feeling overwhelmed.
- Focus on what you have control over (such as your daily routine) rather than what you have no control over (such as finding a vaccine for COVID-19).
By adapting the support services being offered we are able to maintain momentum and support these individuals through their recovery in spite of COVID-19.