Mental health professionals offer advice on how to get out of a pandemic

Everyone in Ireland will have to embark on a psychological journey as society emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic, a leading mental health professional has said.

“We will all need to retrain around social interactions and take reasonable risks as we re-engage face-to-face and end all those zoom calls,” said Paul Gilligan, CEO of St Patrick’s Mental Health Services.

Mr Gilligan was speaking at the #MindYourSelfie webinar on Thursday, which focused on how young people can better prepare for life after lockdown.

He said that at some level everyone suffers from post-traumatic stress reaction and we need to give ourselves time to talk about what we have been through.

“There is still huge uncertainty and none of us have ever experienced a pandemic, we don’t [FULLY]know the emotional and psychological impact,” he said.

“There is a feeling of optimism and happiness – sometimes bordering on euphoria – that it’s almost over and things will get back to normal, but there will be feelings of anger, depression and a feeling of loss that people will feel in different ways,” he said.

Keen not to ‘talk about’ a mental health pandemic as an inevitable consequence of the Covid pandemic, Mr Gilligan said most people will not need professional help.

He offered three tips for young people – and everyone else – for coping with life after lockdown.

Mr Gilligan, who is a clinical psychologist, said people first had to ‘believe that we are loved, that we are good people and that we have the capacity to be happy’.

He said emotional honesty would be “50% of the journey” out of this pandemic for individuals. “We all have a deep-seated psychological resilience and connecting to that will be very important as we emerge from this pandemic.”

His second piece of advice is to “trust others”. He said: “Most young people know they can trust their families, their teachers and their organisations. It reminds us of the importance of expressing how you feel, listening and communicating. with other people you trust.”

His third piece of advice is to “embrace the uncertainty”.

“There have been huge losses that have been different for each of us, but it’s important that we share our Covid stories,” he said.

According to Mr Gilligan, some people will want to move on from Covid-19 quickly, but there needs to be space to process what happened.

“Some young people feel like they’ve wasted a year and want to forget that it ever happened. For any trauma, if you move on too soon, you don’t give yourself the space you need to talk.

Speaking at the same webinar, Dr Aideen O’Neill, a clinical psychologist at St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, said the lockdowns created specific challenges for young people with eating disorders.

“The unpredictability is making us all more anxious and some people have become preoccupied with food as a way to stay in control. The social media focus on food, fitness and the challenges of lockdown stages has been a bit useless for some young people,” she said.

Dr O’Neill advised young people struggling with eating disorders to talk about how they are feeling and seek support from those around them.

Representatives of youth mental health charity Spunout, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and LGBT+ support group BelongTo were among other organizations present at the webinar offering support to young people on life after lockdown.

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