Let me start off this blog by translating the profanities in my head a more decent sentence; what an unfortunate situation this is, huh? Actually, screw that. This is a very terrible time for many people, and there are certain groups of people who are having an extra hard time as of late. But the group I want to focus on right now are the people with a mental illness who are in isolation (whether it’s self-isolation or not) because of the Corona virus (or COVID-19). Because while self-isolation is good for the public health, it’s bad for mental health. Sure, many people will feel a bit lonely, but for people with a mental illness this loneliness can literally kill. And that’s what I’m worrying about.
Why is isolation a problem for the mentally ill?
I feel like the answer is a bit obvious, but that’s because I’m mentally ill myself. So I’ll do my best to explain the problem. For many people with a mental illness such as depression, anxiety or PTSD, going out in public and meeting with people is a coping mechanism to help distract the mind from negative thoughts. I rarely get a wave of depression when I’m out with people. My demons come out when I’m alone. That’s why, as I said in my previous blog, I called my parents when my mental health was really bad. In a bad state like that, I don’t trust myself to be alone.
Now, I am currently feeling perfectly fine. I’m not feeling lonely and my brain is behaving itself (maybe it found some spare serotonin somewhere?). But for many people with a mental illness who are in isolation this is not the case. They are stuck at home, alone. Or maybe with a group of people (such as family) who are the root of the mental problems. Also, therapy appointments are cancelled. Psychologists are not available anymore. There is no professional help for them now. So my fear is that, when mentally ill people are not allowed to go outside or meet with people who make them happy, they will slowly wither away inside their homes. And I’ll be damned if I don’t write a blog about how to help them first.
This blog is mainly for people in isolation who need help, but also for their loved ones. Read the advice I give and share it with those who need it. And remember to check up on them regularly.
Advice for those with mental illness in isolation
If you’re reading this and you’re struggling with isolation right now, I first want you to take a couple deep breaths for me. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 5, and breathe out for 6 seconds. Repeat this three times for me, okay? Good? Good. Now, I’m going to give you some advice on how to get through this, because that’s the goal. For you to hold on and come out of this alive.
Take care of yourself
First of all: fresh air. Most people have a balcony or a garden they can escape to. If you don’t have either of them, just open a window. Be sure to get enough fresh air every day because trust me, that musty inside smell that’s building up in your room isn’t gonna do you any good. Also try and keep your environment clean. I know that can be very hard and I don’t blame you if you can’t do it. But if you can, keep it tidy. Tidy spaces definitely help your mind feel calmer too.
Second: distraction. If you used social gatherings and get-togethers as distraction, try and see if you can create an online hangout somewhere. Videochat with friends, play videogames that can be played online with actual people on the other end, or send funny memes to your friends. Whatever it takes to stay social. And if you’re not feeling social? Find another distraction. Pick up a new hobby or refine your skill: paint, draw, write, craft, make music or invent a time machine. Pick up those unread books you’ve been hoarding for like 7 years (totally not me, nope). Keep a diary, talk to your pet, bake a cake, kiss your plants, clean your house or arrange your tea bags from “heavenly flavour” to “absolutely garbage”. Do whatever it takes to distract yourself. You cannot let those bad thoughts take a hold of you, okay?
Use apps for support
I’ve been using various apps over the past couple of months to help me with my mental health. My favourites so far are Wysa, Aloe Bud & Thinkladder.
Let’s start with Wysa. This app is an A.I. therapist in the form of a penguin. Although it’s an A.I., it has helped me a couple times to get out of my head. At first you have to kind of teach it how to respond so I suggest doing that while you’re in an okay play mentally. You also have to kind of learn how to respond for the A.I. to be able to give a proper answer. This sounds bad, I know. But seriously, it’s worth it. It took me only like 2 chats with the little bird to understand how it worked.
The app offers advice, rethinking exercises, guided meditation, wind down exercises, sleep stories, breathing exercises and many other things (some of which are paid features, however). And if you really need a human then you can pay to add a real life therapist in the chat. I haven’t tried this yet because I didn’t find it necessary, but if you’re really in dire need, you can give it a try.
Next up: Aloe Bud. Aloe Bud is a very simple and cute looking app that can give you reminders to breathe, drink, eat, sleep or just give you an encouraging message. I’ve especially found the “breathe, it’ll be okay” message very useful and it often came at the right time for me.
And last but not least: Thinkladder. This app solely focuses on reframing your negative thoughts. The app offers a very wide range of type of negative thoughts you want to change into positive ones. For example, thoughts such as “my work isn’t good enough” or “I compare my body to that of others” or “I feel like my worth is determined by my success” (these aren’t exact phrases but what I remember seeing from the top of my head). The app then offers various exercises to help you turn the thought into something positive. You can even add reminders to practice this!
I’ve tried a couple of other apps as well but they didn’t work for me. However, there are plenty of apps available that focus on mental health, so by all means, go try them! See what works for you and what doesn’t.
If all else fails..
Put the suicide hotline of your country on speed dial. I’m serious here. Put it high up in your contact list so you can quickly find it if needed. I know this sounds serious but it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you don’t know if you will pull through, please do this. It’s not something to be ashamed or afraid of. It’s something that might just save your life.
Keep your head up
I know those words will go void if you’re in a bad place mentally, but I wanted to say (write) them anyway. This will pass and you are strong enough to get through this isolation period. Stay in contact with those you love and take good care of yourself. Don’t believe everything you read online about the virus so you won’t anxious over something that may not be true. Stay inside as much as possible, wash your hands, and breathe. Do it again for me, okay?