APHLYNE TURFY: How to maintain mental health amid Corona crisis

Ms. Aphlyne Turfy is a Medical Psychologist by profession. She is the Chairperson at Mental Wellness with a Smile, a Community Based Organization that creates mental health awareness through different communication channels, social media platforms, community outreach programs and sign language interpretation to the deaf community.

She is passionate about mental health advocacy amongst the children and youths; with a special focus on Substance Use Disorders. Ms. Turfy is a Quality Rights in Mental Health Advocate certified by the World Health Organization. She was also a Secretariat support to the Presidential Taskforce on Mental Health inaugurated in 2019.

In addition, Ms. Turfy is the Chairperson at Ambitious Girls 254 where she leads the mentorship programme to the young boys and girls in the vulnerable communities in liaison with the local community leaders.
Her greatest dream is to let the whole world know just how connected Mental Wellness is to societal development.

We caught up with her as she shared more on mental health amid Corona crisis.

What is mental health?

It is the state of wellbeing in which an individual realizes their abilities or potential and can cope with the normal stresses of life and become productive in all aspects of their lives.

How has COVID-19 affected our mental health?

For starters, it would be great to know that stress comes in positive and negative forms, Eustress and Distress respectively. We are most times only aware of stress when it’s in the form of distress. For example, getting a promotion from work elicits stress, but that’s positive stress; losing a loved one or such a new pandemic as COVID-19 with so much uncertainties elicits stress too. Therefore, stress affects our state of wellbeing and thus our mental health.

COVID-19, therefore, affects our mental health In the following ways:

  • The excessive worries about uncertainty of when the pandemic will end, fear of getting infected any sort of contamination leads to increased levels of anxiety and panic.
  • There is a likelihood of psychosocial stressors resulting from the decline in income generating activities and the travel restrictions.
  • The prolonged distress can lead to mood disorders such as depression
  • The quarantine and isolation measures in place have led to widened communication gaps and this has also led to relational barriers and especially in families, the children have been affected.

How can we take care of ourselves during this period in terms of ensuring mental health?

Minimise or avoid watching and listening to news that intensify your anxiety. Take breaks from social media platforms that have rumours and create tension. Where need to be updated arises, get the information from authentic sources eg. World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health.

There is social distancing but this should be replaced with consistent and effective communication with our loved ones on mails and other media platforms. Loneliness can bring thoughts of ‘unwantedness’ and suicidal ideation. Keep in touch with family and friends.

Have adequate sleep, stay hydrated, exercise, maintain a healthy and balanced nutritional diet. Other self care tips include; meditation, yoga, dancing or listening to music. Anything that gets you occupied and in a good set of mind will be advisable.

Importantly, everyone is different and no one should feel pressured when everyone else is doing something and they think they are probably not doing enough. This is a crisis and we are not out to compete on who works out best and who is gaining weight. People respond to tragedies differently.

Do we have a role to play when it comes to ensuring mental health for our friends, family and neighbours?

Yes we do. Let’s be kind and understanding especially to the affected families. Let’s know the right terms to use in order to stop stigma e.g associating COVID-19 to a certain population creates stigma. In mental health, using the term ‘Chinese virus’ is not right too.

Above all, observe the infection and prevention control measures in Place. Doing so with reduce the paranoia of catching an infection.

What about the children? How do we reach out to them during this period?

Children need reassurance and comfort from adults and especially parents. They might not express fear as adults do but you will notice it in their behaviours such as lack of sleep, gazing, sulking and tantrums where there was initially no such habits.

Allow them to play indoors and let them know that these times can’t allow playing outside. Be frank with children and sensitize them on what COVID-19 is and why the sudden change in behaviours. They need to know the truth! Don’t assume that they are too young to understand. Respond to their questions in a simplified language they can understand.

On continuity with school work while at home, don’t make them wish they were at school instead. Create a conducive environment for them at home. Most of all, reassure them since they believe in adults, love and show affection to them.

Incase we test positive of COVID-19. What next for us? What should we do?

Know that there are people who are recovering from COVID-19 and that it is not the end of the road. Realise that anxiety at this point is normal and seek help. Also through telecounseling, you will be able to talk to someone. Call 1199 for those in Kenya️ for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Services.

Furthermore, still observe the IPC measure and stay with a positive mindset.

What about those who have lost family members to the disease? How do we reach out to them?

No one is to blame. Reassure the families and keep tabs. Support where you can financially. If you can’t make it, just be humane and support them. Let them know that people still care. It’s a sad time where even the burials might not be attended by families but let’s not lose touch with families and friends. People just want to be assured that someone cares.

Lastly, any final words for us?

There is no health without mental health. Your mental health matters.

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