By Bernadine Rodrigo
Although the Covid-19 pandemic by now has grasped the attention of the entire world, what many often forget is the massive impact it has had on the mental well-being of many people. While medical professionals are required to be vigilant in taking care of the physical health of patients, a growing requirement for mental health professionals has also risen to keep the citizens’ minds at ease during this great crisis with limited resources and no access to move about as usual.
Seeking professional mental health help is rather minimal in Sri Lanka and it seems unlikely that our people, at a time like, this would go about looking for help regardless of what stress they might be under. However, seeing as how there was a massive gap when it came to the provision of mental health help in this country, a group of local psychologists decided that in this time of need, it was up to them to contribute in whatever way they can in the spirit of fulfilling the true purpose of their occupation. They formed the programme “Cope” through which they volunteered to provide free therapy sessions through the telemedicine platform known as “Doxy.me”.
Doxy.me is a video calling site created for medical purposes. It is much more secure when compared to other platforms and maintains confidentiality of the client and his/her personal information.
Cope was created specifically to help individuals under distress as a result of Covid-19 and explain the measures which must be taken to battle it in Sri Lanka. The volunteering psychologists maintain the entire forum in shifts while also catering to the psychological needs of the individuals who seek their help.
As expressed by volunteer clinical psychologist Suhaila Shafeek-Irshard, at a time like this, every individual is being affected in some way. Although many have recognised that there may be those who are suffering greatly as a result of having to stay home, such as those subject to domestic abuse or daily wage workers who are forced to suffer the economic repercussions of having close to nothing to help themselves and their families with, what we do not notice is that alot of people are undergoing various forms of personal problems as a result of the spread of the virus.
She said there is a lot of fear of the unknown amongst the people during this time; there is a great deal of anxiety not only about what is going to happen to personal lives, but also about the direction in which the world is heading right now and where it will be in the future.
The panic is normal, although sometimes it may seem irrational or overly dramatic. “It is a frightening time. There is a lot of anxiety amongst the people. Their daily routines have been completely disrupted – not only for adults, but also for the children,” Shafeek-Irshard noted. She makes it a point to mention that even though to some the reactions of some people may seem irrational, it is completely normal and human of these people and that there is no right or wrong way of feeling about the situation in which we are in right now.
This is the main reason, as observed by Cope, for individuals to consult them. As of now, they get about two to three calls a day, but they are well equipped to accommodate more. They work according to a schedule, in which a person seeking their support can make an online appointment by selecting one of the available time slots. Then, the volunteers with professional qualifications and experience in the backend will co-ordinate and informthe psychologist designated for the time slot to be available for the client through Doxy.me during this time. The appointments can be made through their COPE Facebook page.
The appointed therapist will then support the client in whichever way they can. While they try to limit their sessions to just one, they will let the client know if they will need anymore. However, after the first session, if the client wishes to have further sessions a referal can be made and this depends entirely on the client and their desire to pusue further support.
Seeing as how the leading problem amongst the people is the fear of the unknown and the inability to control this crisis, Shafeek-Irshard stated a few things which people can do to stay mentally fit at home. “We try to control everything, and that’s why we recommend that people focus on things which they can control. We recommend working according to a schedule; if you have children, make sure they follow a similar schedule as they would in school on a regular day. Stay healthy by getting some exercise and focus on your behaviour around what we can control through telecommunication by keeping in touch with friends and family,” she shared.
She also mentioned that it is best to stay away from as much negative news as possible with only gaining the necessary knowledge so as to not further hinder the already low morale which is now looming over us and try to surround oneself with as much positiveness as possible. It is in fact all we can do and if we indeed do so, our service to the greater good of our society would be incalculable.