Managing Mental Health Amidst COVID-19

The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has proven stressful for individuals and communities as a whole. People are feeling anxious, overwhelmed, out of control, uncertain and in some cases panicked. This has been evident in our communities with panic buying and people acting outside of their ‘normal’ value systems. It is important as adults that we acknowledge the emotional impact of this situation without judgement and work strategically to mitigate the emotional impacts for ourselves and the young people we support. 

Stress impacts us all differently 

The emotional impact of an emergency on a person can depend on the person’s individual characteristics and external influences. 

People who may respond more strongly to the stress of a crisis include: 
  • People who have pre-existing mental health conditions 
  • Children 
  • Parents of children with a pre-existing health condition 
  • People with elderly parents 
  • Health Workers
Reactions during an Infectious Disease Outbreak can include: 
  • Fear and worry about your own health status and that of your loved ones 
  • ‘Catastrophising’ and intrusive thoughts of ‘worst-case scenarios ‘
  • Changes in sleep and eating patterns 
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Worsening of chronic health problems 
  • Panic buying 
  • Increase use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs 

While we are not able to control many elements of this pandemic, what we can control is how we choose to manage our mental health. There are many things you can do to support yourself, your children and other loved ones at this time. 

How to help children/adolescents cope during a crisis 

During a crisis, heightened media coverage and ongoing conversations can be distressing for children/adolescents, particularly when they may be isolated from their support network of teachers, Guidance Officers and peers at school. They may need help to understand what’s going on in a way that’s appropriate for their age and development. 

 Limit the amount of media coverage they see, hear and read, particularly biased or social media. If they do watch the news, be there to explain it to them and answer any questions they may have, and consider bias and motives behind some reporting.  Ask them what they already know about the virus so you can clarify any misunderstandings.

  • Be honest and stick to the facts 
  • Give them a sense of control by explaining what they can do to stay safe (e.g., wash their hands regularly, stay away from people who are coughing or sneezing). 
  • Explain to them the importance of taking preventative hygiene measures. For some children public service videos can be quite helpful to explain sneezing and coughing strategies. 
  • Monitor their reactions, and listen to how they feel and what they think without judgement. Particularly for adolescents who have existing mental health conditions (e.g. anxiety, depression, OCD). 
  • Point out governmental action undertaken to address the situation 
  • If schools do close down, ensure your children have a regular routine at home that mirrors a school day as this is familiar and predictable. Ensure that they incorporate exercise and family time into their day. Monitor their phone/TV use and model appropriate use with them.
  • Connect with others. Share your concerns and how you are feeling with a friend or family member. Maintain healthy relationships by calling, Facetiming or Skyping with friends. Check in with your elderly and vulnerable family members. They might be feeling like a burden, so it is particularly important to let them know you are thinking of them. You can set them up on Skype/Facetime or call them regularly. 

Demonstrating resilience for your children

  • Read trustworthy news sites. There is so much conflicting information out there. The World Health Organization, the Australian Government Department of Health, and Queensland Health are best placed to provide you with the facts
  • Keep perspective. Remember that crises swamp the headlines because they are so infrequent and out of the ordinary – this is what makes them newsworthy. Worldwide, we have more knowledge and better technology than at any point in history. This means we’ve never been more prepared to handle crises than we are right now, and this capability will only continue to improve. 
  • Maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking. Make time to unwind and remind yourself that intense emotions and feelings will fade. 
  • Avoid excessive exposure to media coverage of COVID-19. News is available everywhere, which means it can be hard to switch off. If you feel that you’re preoccupied by the news, consider setting yourself reasonable limits. Avoid exposure to news before bed as it can interfere with your sleep. 
  • Show your children that taking care of your body is important in stressful situations- model breathing, stretching and meditation. There are some excellent free apps to download; Smiling Minds or Headspace Mindfulness, which could be beneficial to listen to as a family. Eat healthy well-balanced meals as this will also help your immune system.  

When to get support

  • Most people will feel some distress during a crisis. Demonstrate to your children that this is normal, and usually resolves within a matter of days or weeks. 
  • If you or a family member have taken steps to enhance mental wellbeing but are still feeling stressed, overwhelmed, worried, or just not like your/their normal self, it’s important to tell someone. You can also seek support from your GP and many Private Psychologists will be offering appointments via telephone/skype. 
  • Be a role model-Your own behaviour plays an important role in helping children deal with the current situation. It’s ok to share your own feelings but show your child how you are managing them. This can help them to build important life skills like resilience. If you are feeling distressed, discuss it with other adults rather than your children.

Where to get support

  • Call 13Health (13 43 25 84) at any time for practical medical advice and assistance 
  • Visit the Headspace website for information on stress related to COVID-19 and other topics, as well as access to e-counselling support 
  • Contact Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) or visit the Kids Helpline website  
  • Lifeline Australia’s telephone counselling service on 13 11 14 or visit the Lifeline Australia website 
  • Obtain help and information from the local General Practitioner or Community Health Centre. 

Mr Finlay Lester & Ms Mary Campanella
(KSHS Guidance Officers)

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Last reviewed 24 March 2020
Last updated 24 March 2020