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Taking care of your mental health amid a pandemic


On this World Mental Health Day, Noor Hafizah Wahianuar, Psychologist at the Child Development Unit, Khoo Teck Puat – National University Children's Medical Institute, National University Hospital, shares her views on the importance of mental health in society, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on our lives, and forced us to make changes to our daily routines. This new normal has brought about stress, anxiety and depression due to the uncertainties and constant changes to our way of life. Singaporeans are worried about the threat of the virus, and the risk of infection for themselves and their families. Some have suffered the loss of their loved ones, while others worry about job security, finances and the future. Consistent self-care is thus essential to cope with these stresses.

Part of taking care of ourselves is being aware that our mental and physical health are interconnected. Even though the topic of mental health is slowly gaining attention in our community, it is often overlooked compared to physical health. One of the main reasons could be that physical health issues are more visible, and often require immediate attention, while mental health issues may not be obvious at first. In addition, while many people know about subsidies and medical avenues available for patients with physical conditions, they may not be as aware of how to seek help for mental health conditions.

Mental illnesses are invisible and abstract. Not many are conscious of the types of mental health issues, the symptoms they should look out for, or even if they require help. Some may also be worried that looking for professional help would jeopardise future employment opportunities.

To make matters more challenging, there is a stigma surrounding mental illnesses. Common misconceptions are that people with mental illnesses are not trying hard enough, attention-seeking, lazy or just giving excuses. Another misconception is that everyone with a mental illness is violent or behaves in abnormal ways. Similar to physical illnesses, there is a range of mental illnesses, and it is not always obvious when someone is suffering from a mental illness.

The past two years have been especially challenging for all of us, albeit in different ways. I think World Mental Health Day is a reminder for all of us to take care of ourselves and prioritise our mental well-being. Always remember that your feelings are valid. If you need to, don't hesitate to seek help, or talk to someone you trust!

Here are a few tips on staying connected with your loved ones, and maintaining your mental health during this period:

1.     Check in with your loved ones regularly, whether through texting, phone calls, video calls or social media.

2.     Have a meal, watch a movie, or celebrate a significant event together virtually.

3.     If working from home, keep a regular work routine and avoid working after work hours. Do set clear zones and try not to bring your work outside of your work zone. Lastly, remember to stop for lunch and have lunch away from your computer.

4.     Make time for yourself, and rest effectively. Take a walk, exercise, read a book, listen to music, watch a movie at home or meditate – anything that helps you relax and take your mind off your worries.