In SANE's COVID mental health series, Anita shares her thoughts on managing your mental health during the pandemic.
Anita is a SANE Peer Ambassador who lives with bipolar 1. She is a wife, mum, small animal vet, writer and mental health advocate. She took some time out to answer a few questions for us.
Q. What concerns you most about the impact COVID will have on your mental health?
A: If I didn’t have access to the medication that keeps me well, that would be a concern. But at this stage, I think that’s unlikely to happen. I’m acutely aware of my privilege and am fortunate to have access to high quality, consistent mental health care. So, I’m not that worried about myself. I’m also nearly 14 years into my experience with my bipolar 1 disorder, so I have a lot of insight and know when to seek help.
Q. How do you think this pandemic will affect other people’s mental health?
A. I’m concerned for the many people new to mental health difficulties during this pandemic. The effects of the coronavirus could trigger someone’s first experience. Others with previously undiagnosed/unmanaged mental health difficulties may go from managing to deteriorating, due to pressures this pandemic has brought with it. It could be challenging for this group to recognise what’s happening and access appropriate care quickly.
Q. What challenges do you think exist for people accessing good mental health care?
A. Good, consistent mental health care can be challenging to access even in non-COVID times. I imagine it will get harder. For me, private health insurance has been instrumental in getting a rapid early diagnosis and appropriate treatment, which means my quality of life is very good most of the time. I find it frustrating to know that even complex mental illness like mine can be managed very effectively with the right care, but access to that care is means dependent in this country. Not everyone can afford private health insurance. In my experience, and from listening to others speak about their experiences, especially when it comes to inpatient hospital care – the public mental health hospital system lags far behind the quality of care found in the private mental health hospital system.
Q. What ways are you looking after your mental health while in isolation?
A. Exercise on most days is one of my main mental health support structures, even when I’m not in isolation. I’m usually a regular gym goer, but have had to start doing my exercise at home, which was an adjustment – but definitely better than not moving at all. I only check the news once a day, if that, and only focus on the aspects that directly affect what I need to do.
In some ways I feel as though my lived experience of bipolar 1 disorder has prepared me somewhat for the mental challenges of this pandemic, because this is not the first time I’ve been in a challenging situation with minimal control over the outcome, and no endpoint in sight.
Q. What advice can you give to those whose mental health is affected by COVID-19
A. Take it one day at a time. And keep doing that until both COVID, and the mental health challenges you’re facing, pass .Make a list of the aspects of this crisis that you have control over and those you don’t – then tear up the list of things you can’t control and focus on the list of things you can. For example, you can’t control the spread of the virus between countries or whether people at the shops are practicing social distancing. You can control whether you follow the advice of health professionals, whether you eat reasonably well, exercise, self-medicate with alcohol or are pro-active about seeking help. Many of the main mental health support organisations including SANE are an excellent source of online or telephone support and are a great place to start if you’re not feeling yourself and are unsure of where to turn to.
Given our unusual circumstances, I think now more than ever it is appropriate to allow ourselves to feel our feelings – even if they aren’t pretty.
I don’t believe it’s helpful to suppress feelings by comparing our situation to others who may be worse off. When my children are struggling, I tell them they’re allowed a tantrum or a feeling grumpy ‘allowance’. But they get to set a time limit on it so they don’t get stuck in the negativity. I try to follow the same guideline for myself, if I’m being swamped by strong, negative feelings.
This next piece of advice is based solely on my own lived experience with a complex mental illness, and it’s important to remember everyone is different. But I would say – however horrible it gets, and however long it lasts, it always passes. It can be really hard to believe you will be well again when you are in the middle of it, but the knowledge that I have recovered every time I have become unwell over the last nearly 14 years helps me through it. You just have to hold on and do what you can.
Guest Q&A with SANE Peer Ambassador, Anita Link
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