Rural Pharmacist: Mental Health in a Pandemic

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by Henry Tempelman, Pharmacist/Owner @ Kakabeka Falls & Rosslyn Pharmacies

            March 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of when COVID’s impact was felt in our country and our own community. March 23, 2020 marked the first lockdown of essential businesses in Ontario. March 27, 2020 was the first COVID case in Thunder Bay. When we had our vapour barriers installed in our pharmacies March 20, 2020 to keep staff safe we had no idea how long they would stay up (spoiler alert: they’re still up).

            We’ve learned a lot about the coronavirus in the last year.: wearing masks reduces transmission, health professionals can better treat COVID infected patients, and that social distancing is now a regular term in our vocabulary (and it requires a hockey stick length apart from one another, in Canadian measurements).

            It’s been a long year for everyone. Mental health has been a struggle for many; from children to parents to seniors. Children have had disruption to their routines, with school closures and extracurricular activities being shut down. Young adults have careers or studies put on hold, preventing them from taking the anticipated next steps in their professional lives. Parents are concerned about their children’s well-being, and may be struggling financially with job loss, business shutdown and arranging for child care. Seniors are suffering from isolation from their families and from their hobbies/activities.

            All of the above are just a few examples of some of the negative ripple effects that COVID has had on society. Then there is the virus itself and the fear of contracting the virus.: Seniors and adults with existing health conditions (due to poor outcomes if infected) and essential workers (due to fear of contracting virus and bringing it home to their families) are reporting higher rates of anxiety/depression. New diagnoses of mental health are up, as are exacerbations of existing mental health conditions. History has shown that mental health impact outlasts the physical impact of disasters, suggesting today’s mental health need will continue for years beyond the COVID outbreaks.

            These emotions are real and I’ve seen them all. There is a hope and optimism with reductions in active cases and hopes of the COVID vaccine rollout, only to be followed by despair with increases in active cases, shutdowns and more isolation from family. Some people are becoming more agitated and irritable toward loved ones. Frustration growing amongst some that a neighbour doesn’t share your views on the vaccine or on how to handle social situations. It’s important to remember that everyone is dealing with their own personal challenges at home that you may not know about. A listening ear for 30 minutes might be all that person needs. Check in with those people that you suspect could benefit from a phone call or video chat. Check in with your loved ones that show no signs of mental distress, because they may be suffering behind closed doors.

            Other strategies to improve your mental health:

  • Take breaks from watching or reading the news, especially social media. It’s important to stay informed, but being consumed by the pandemic can be upsetting.
  • Take care of your body! Stretch, meditate, eat healthy, exercise, avoid excessive alcohol/tobacco/substance abuse, good sleep hygiene, vaccines
  • Make time to unwind. Set time to enjoy some hobbies/activities you enjoy.
  • And again: Connect with others! Tell them how you’re feeling and listen to how they feel.

At the time of this writing, COVID cases in Thunder Bay are at an all-time high. That is tough news, but one strategy that I like is for every negative thing you read/see try and find a positive thing to counter it. For example, Thunder Bay just announced that they hope to vaccinate 500 people a day at the vaccination centres! That’s great news and that means each day gets us closer to the end of the pandemic.

      We are always here to help however we can. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about medication, but also about counselling services or other options locally. You may be apart, but you’re not alone.

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