As the new coronavirus continues to spread across the world, Hong Kongers have been feeling a collective concern the city has not seen since the devastating SARS outbreak of 2003.
In Hong Kong, stress and depression are already common due to long work hours, financial pressures, and the recent socio-political turmoil. According to Dr Hannah Reidy, founder and CEO of Mind HK, a Hong Kong-based mental health charity, one in seven Hongkongers will experience mental health problems in their lifetime, and yet only 26 per cent seek help due to the stigma around mental issues, she says.
In recent weeks, the widespread proliferation of fake news, conspiracy theories and other types of unverified information about COVID-19, which the World Health Organisation has coined an “infodemic,” has only served to exacerbate fear and anxiety. For those who experienced SARS, these rumours can also intensify traumatic memories, Dr Reidy says.
At the same time, precautionary measures such as social distancing, working from home and school suspensions have minimised Hongkongers’ social interactions, amplifying feelings of loneliness, isolation and anxiety.
In such times, supporting our mental health, as well as that of those around us, should be a priority, says Dr Reidy. Here are some tips from Mind HK on how to help yourself and others:
1. Acknowledge how you feel
It’s normal to feel worried, anxious and stressed during viral outbreaks, as they pose a threat to our physical wellbeing. It’s best to acknowledge your emotions, especially increased levels of anxiety and feelings of loneliness, and understand that this reaction is normal. There are many ways to express your feelings, whether through talking with friends or family, journaling, or meditation.
2. Maintain healthy routines
Get enough sleep, eat balanced meals and continue to exercise regularly. Remember that physical and mental health are interlinked. In these times, it’s crucial to take care of yourself by establishing a healthy schedule for daily activities. When self-isolating, spend time exercising, cooking, reading and practicing mindfulness. It’s beneficial to stay fully focused on each activity you engage in.
3. Connect with others
Spend more time connecting with friends and family over the phone, via text messages, or video chats. But try not to spend the whole time discussing the virus, as fixating on the virus may lead to more worry, rather than relieving pressure.
4. Take a break from social media
Take a break from social media if you are feeling overwhelmed or if you’re struggling to concentrate on anything else. It’s as simple as moving social media apps off your home screen and disabling notifications. Instead, engage in activities that help you relax and stay active, such as sports, meditation, journaling or other creative hobbies you enjoy.
5. Read reliable sources
Stay in the loop by checking trustworthy sources such as government departments, health bureaus or the World Health Organization. Review the latest news once a day – and try to resist checking right before bed.
6. Fact-check alarming news
When you receive news via messaging and social media platforms, be sure to verify the facts before reacting and sharing with others. Healthcare experts say fake news can lead to increased levels of anxiety and unease, so don’t recirculate before doing your due diligence.
7. Practice compassion
Check-in on neighbours and friends regularly via a phone call or social media to see how they are doing. If a friend, colleague or family member exhibits signs of distress or depression, encourage them to talk openly about their feelings. To support them, you can listen carefully without passing judgment and let them know they are not alone.
Editor’s Note: If you are feeling distressed or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call The Samaritans (a 24-hour multilingual hotline) at 289 6000, or The Samaritan Befrienders (a 24-hour Cantonese language hotline) at 2389 2222.