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WHO Provides Mental Health Considerations During Coronavirus Outbreak

The WHO recognized that constant coronavirus updates can cause stress, so they created some mental health tips for patients and their caregivers.

The novel coronavirus outbreak is generating stress in the worldwide population, so the World Health Organization (WHO) created mental health guidelines for support for psychological wellbeing during the outbreak.

The WHO’s guidelines were designed to support the general population, health care workers, health care facility managers or team leaders, caretakers of children or older adults, as well as people in isolation. They tailored these recommendations to each of those groups, knowing that after the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern in January that anxiety about the infection could increase.

For the general population, the WHO suggested not attaching the coronavirus to any 1 ethnicity or nationality. Instead, realize that this outbreak will impact many people in various locations.

“Those with the disease have not done anything wrong,” the WHO document stated. Those people, they added, should be referred to as “people who have COVID-19,” “people who are being treated for COVID-19,” or “people who are recovering from COVID-19.”

Honoring the role of caretakers and health care workers in the community is another tip for the general population. But importantly, the WHO said that by avoiding watching, reading or listening to news that causes distress or anxiety can be useful. Instead, they suggested seeking factual information to take practical steps to protect loved ones.

Health care workers should rest assured that feeling stressed about the situation is normal, the WHO said. Getting rest between work shifts, eating sufficient healthy food, engaging in physical activity, and staying in contact with family and friends can be useful coping strategies. Unhelpful coping strategies include use of tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs.

“Stress and the feelings associated with it are by no means a reflection that you cannot do your job or that you are weak,” the WHO said. “Managing your stress and psychosocial wellbeing during this time is as important as managing your physical health.”

The same is true for health facility managers, though the WHO said these workers should manage their staff’s expectations and responsibilities. By using the buddy system (a more experienced worker paired with a less experienced worker) and rotating from high- to low-stress environments, staff will have a better mental capacity to fulfill their duties. Another tip from the WHO is to communicate developments and information to staff and make sure they are aware of where to access mental health and psychosocial support services.

Managers should be able to be a role model for self-care to mitigate stress levels, the WHO said.

Children removed from their usual routines due to the coronavirus should maintain familiar routines as much as possible. If it’s safe, try not to remove the child from their caregiver. If they must be removed and there are periods of separation, regular contact through phone or video calls should be scheduled and they should continue to play and socialize with others. Children’s anxieties may develop during this period — but that’s normal, the WHO said. Engaging in creative activities to express and communicate their feelings of fear and/or sadness can help.

“Older adults, especially in isolation and those with cognitive decline/dementia, may become more anxious, angry, stressed, agitated, and withdrawn during the outbreak/while in quarantine,” the WHO said. Emotional support from families can help solve this, but so can facts and clear information about the situation. This information can come from their family and other support networks.

“Instructions need to be communicated in a clear, concise, respectful and patient way. and it may also be helpful for information to be displayed in writing or pictures.”

For people in isolation, the WHO’s biggest recommendation was to stay connected to social networks to avoid feelings of isolation. Maintaining a typical routine can help as well, including staying connected through email, social media, video conferencing and telephone. When stressed, isolated patients should recognize their own needs and feelings, the WHO added. Healthy activities that promote relaxation, such as regular exercise, regular sleep routines, and healthy food, can keep things in perspective.

“A near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel anxious or distressed,” the WHO acknowledged. “Seek information updates and practical guidance at specific times during the day from health professionals and WHO website and avoid listening to or following rumors that make you feel uncomfortable… Public health agencies and experts in all countries are working on the outbreak to ensure the availability of the best care to those affected.”