Mental Health in times of COVID


Maria Rovira Torrens

Director of Strategy and Citizen Emotional Competence of Public Emotional Culture

Collaborating Professor of the Psychology Degree at the UOC

Dr. Marta Torrens

Prof. Psychiatry Autonomous University of Barcelona and UVic-UCC

Neuropsychiatry and Addictions Institute-Hospital del Mar

Preliminary data indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant impact on people's mental health. However, we must emphasize that despite the multiple data published to date, we still do not know the consequences of the current situation due to the changes generated in the different waves of the pandemic (this article has been written during the beginning of the fifth wave in Spain). What we can say so far is that mental health disorders have worsened in those people who were already diagnosed previously. Likewise, more mental disorders have appeared related to bereavement, increased stress as a result of social problems, inequalities, as well as the uncertainty generated in relation to the lack of future prospects.

Thus, we can highlight the increase in suicidal thoughts and behavior in adolescents and young people, more so in girls. In adults, this increase has been more frequent among those who already had a mental disorder prior to the pandemic; that is, individuals with depression, generalized anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks and substance use disorders.

At the same time, we detect an increase in the use of substances, especially alcohol and tranquilizers, as well as a problematic use of digital technology, especially in children and young adults. This fact has produced an increase in addiction to screens, especially based on games and social networks. Finally, there has been an increase in eating disorders, especially in young women, in part related to the use of social media.

Taking into account how the pandemic has highlighted the situation of mental health disorders and emotional discomfort, we must take a stance that allows us to address this from a preventive perspective and approach to mental health disorders, and a promotion of emotional well-being, in the medium and long term.

Thus, this requires different types of intervention at the individual and community level in our society. To do so, one of the mechanisms that we must put at the center of public policy is the socialization of emotional culture. This should allow us, on the one hand, to develop emotional skills that build individual and community resilience and, on the other, to detect and intervene with those people who need individualized support, taking into account their emotional and psychological state.

When we talk about the development of individual and community resilience, we talk about sharing the necessary tools and strategies in order to ensure everyone has the minimum skills developed to be able to sustain their day to day lives, within the framework of a society clearly marked by a social system and economy in which the individual and his needs are often relegated to the background, passing ahead of productivity and economic benefits. This point is important, insofar as we have forgotten about this fundamental thing; How do people live, feel, think and act? Based on how we do it? What is that thing that happens on the inside? How do we suffer and sustain pain? How can we generate our own well-being? The answers to these questions are essential for building resilience.

According to Groteberg (2006), resilience is the ability that individuals have, to face the adversities of life, overcome them, and even be transformed by them. At the same time, we must talk about community resilience, taking into account the psychosocial interactions that shape us as individuals in the community. This relationship allows us to develop joint action frameworks from which we understand and face our reality in a shared framework of beliefs and experiences. We must take into consideration that there are different phases of resilience, in the same way that we must be aware that building resilience is a process that takes place throughout life.

In this way, there is an essential first phase that consists of the development of tools and emotional skills prior to conflict situations, to catastrophes, which may occur. This is when we work on emotional skills such as emotional awareness, regulation, autonomy, social skills and skills for life and well-being. We then develop, in ourselves and in our community, emotionally trained people to deal with difficult situations that may arise.

A second phase is when a conflictive, complicated or catastrophic situation is experienced, and we then deploy all these skills. This fact allows us to address these situations in a more emotionally intelligent way (and, therefore, less emotionally and psychologically damaging).

Finally, the third phase is the one where, after having faced the situation, we can learn from how we have acted, how we have experienced it, what we can improve, and learn what we have done correctly. Going through this process is what allows us to say that we came out of this situation stronger; we learn to be able to have new perspectives on issues in order to develop individually and collectively, thus we change and improve upon our capacities.

Thus, the challenge we have as a society is immense if we want to lay the foundations to be able to generate resilient people and communities, as resilience is the capacity that can generate tools to prevent mental health disorders and strengthen our emotional well-being individually and as a community.


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