Saskatoon counsellor offers tips on staying mentally healthy during COVID-19 self-isolation, social distancing
Social worker Terri Peterson speaks to CTV News on March 19, 2020.
SASKATOON -- As the world practices social distancing, many may struggle staying mentally healthy without as many human interactions.
Last week, national sports leagues suspended their seasons. Saskatchewan has banned meetings of 50 people or more to avoid possible transmission of COVID-19.
Terri Peterson, practice leader and counsellor of the Student Wellness Centre at the University of Saskatchewan, is advising people to stay virtually connected – and remember the greater goal of social distancing.
CTV News spoke to Peterson over Skype. The interview has been edited for length.
How will self-isolation impact our mental health, especially those who are already battling depression?
Humans are social creatures. We need to feel connected for our health, and to help us understand who we are. It’s important for people to stay connected, and there’s a variety of ways to do that — even in isolation.
For a lot of mental health issues, isolation is part of the illness. People are going to have to do their work, and work a little harder to support themselves in the appropriate way for them. Hopefully they’re reaching out to people. I know of clinics and places are closing, but are functioning online. We’ll have to move into our virtual world. Even in social isolation, if they’re not feeling ill, they can still go outside. They might connect with their animals and plants. Getting outside and moving, and interacting in some way is important — some people may have to get innovative. Remembering what brings passion and purpose to their lives is really important.
What are your tips to stay mentally healthy?
Continuing to be the person, and do the things, that helps people find themselves and their identity. And supporting their loved ones is a big piece. Remembering that there’s a purpose around this isolation. We’re trying to come together as a community and flatten the curve. There’s a purpose why we’re doing this.
Find unique ways of being connected. Remember the ways we usually do connect with each other and making sure we — in some resemblance — we do those things.
We’re hearing and seeing the word “indefinitely” quite often during this pandemic. How does this open-ended word affect our psyche, do to our sense of hope?
We can probably choose our words more wisely. I noticed my local greenhouse had closed and it said, “indefinitely.” It felt very stark. I might say, “We’re closed to protect our community” because really that’s what we’re doing. “Indefinitely” does sound very stark and startling, and probably does get people feeling threatened. And it’s very easy when we feel threatened to forget about why we’re doing this. We’re actually coming together as a community, and trying to take care of our community — which is pretty inspiring.
So how can people stay positive?
There’s a couple things people can do. They can help each other remind themselves of who they are, by being in relationship with their children, parents, friends, colleagues — it comes back to self-purpose and identify. Children have to acknowledge what’s going on for them — their emotions, their thoughts. But we forget that as adults. We need to acknowledge what’s going on.
It’s important to feel compassion for ourselves and each other. And know people might step outside of themselves — and that’s ok. It’s ok to feel low, and then find yourself back to where you need to be. It’s ok to have those experiences. We should ground ourselves in what’s important. We can do that through activity, being with people and continue to work — and that will probably be in a different fashion for a period of time.
How can people come to terms with cancellations. We’re seeing national sports, school, vacations getting cancelled – how can people come to terms with this in a healthy way?
At the root of it, I think everyone would agree they value human life. They value our seniors, our health. I think just remembering that these events are going to happen again — they’re not going to be cancelled forever. Your jazz band may be cancelled, but you can still play music. Ask yourself, “What is it I can do?” Tell yourself, “These events will happen again, I will vacation again. I will play soccer again.”