13 Oct

Pictured: Psychologist, parenting and career specialist and author, Paul Bushell


Sarah Mackintosh chats to Paul Bushell about the effects the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have had on our mental health.

World Mental Health Day on 10 October draws attention to mental health needs and issues across the globe. The past 18 months have been stressful to say the least, and Paul says it is clear that the pandemic has affected people in many ways – including emotionally. “There is more and more research suggesting that it has and continues to be a collective trauma, which will affect people in different ways in years to come. People who have been especially vulnerable are COVID-19 patients, those who have lost loved ones and employment, healthcare workers, and children and teenagers worrying about the vulnerable adults in their lives.”

Trauma is generally the emotional response to a terrible and often life-threatening event, whether real or imagined. “The exposure to a traumatic event or trigger sets into motion a series of physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioural responses,” explains Paul. “Although many of these responses are normal, adaptive and part of a clever system to keep us alive, persisting responses or symptoms can become unhealthy. Most people, with time and good self-care, are able to get better. However, some people may develop longer-term difficulties – including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”

Paul explains that PTSD is a psychiatric condition that needs to be diagnosed by a registered health professional. This diagnosis is made when trauma symptoms persist for more than a month, are significantly intense and interrupt a person’s daily functioning. Symptoms may include high levels of anxiety, panic attacks, intrusive scary thoughts, flashbacks and nightmares, trouble concentrating, irritability and outbursts of anger, hopelessness, a lack of interest and avoiding certain people, places or activities, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, and self-destructive behaviour.

“There is value for anyone who has experienced a traumatic event to talk about their experience with trusted people in their lives. This helps the brain, body and self make sense of what has and has happened, and map out ways of coping and readjusting to life. Seeking out professional help for trauma response becomes more and more important the more intense and/or longer these symptoms persist,” says Paul.

Children have also been emotionally stretched and affected by this pandemic. Their daily lives and routines have been disturbed, and many of their normal rites of passage and developmental experiences interrupted. They have experienced the loss of loved ones, and been surrounded by the fear of contracting and infecting others with COVID-19. This has resulted in a variety of hard emotions – including fear, frustration, anger, sadness, grief, and anxiety. Although children have all the same feelings as adults, it is sometimes hard for them to make sense of these feelings and find healthy ways to deal with them.

Although children have shown to be largely adaptive, Paul says it is important to remember that they will need ongoing support. “The supportive adults in their life need to make space for these feelings, by talking about them and finding healthy ways to express and work through them. Avoiding our feelings can result in pent up emotions and maladaptive behaviours. Regularly checking in with children and starting conversations about where they are at, is very important. This can be supported by talking about and role-modelling different ways of emotionally coping with and in front of children. Seeking the support of a psychologist or counsellor can be very useful for families and children as they work through these emotions,” says Paul.

“Help-seeking is important for all of us, and no one should feel like they have to work through their experiences and emotions alone. Research about the differences between online and in-room counselling and their effectiveness continues to emerge. When choosing a counsellor or seeking help online it is important to research their qualifications and accreditation, and get a sense of whether they would be a good fit for you,” concludes Paul. *


  • 073 200 7219
  • www.bushell.co.za



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