Interview: Managing Mental Health in a Pandemic

Harpreet Sanghera is a team manager working for a leading organisation in mental health in the West Midlands. Her role comes with the responsibility of a nineteen member staff who are each responsible for the care of mental health patients. Having qualified as a psychologist from Coventry University in November 2014, Harpreet has given four years of service to the mental health sector since graduating, and seven years when including the voluntary work she did as an undergraduate.

Harpreet Sanghera

Passionate about caring for people with ill mental health, Harpreet shares with us her experiences as a mental healthcare professional working on the frontline throughout this pandemic, and provides insight into how we can manage through heightened anxieties as we all navigate through the consequences of COVID19.

About Harpreet

After majoring in Psychology, I decided to work with patients diagnosed with mental health problems like schizophrenia, depression, psychosis and anxiety. I have always been passionate about supporting patients with ill mental health. There is a sobering side to this job. It is not for everyone. There have been times when I have sadly found patients dead…but there is also the heartening experience of watching patients recover or witnessing an improvement in their mental health. Many go on to live healthy and fulfilled lives.

Working through the pandemic

As a result of lockdown, many of our patients are now faced with an obstacle to their recovery. This has led to a significant increase in crisis and emergencies in the mental health sector.

The service I lead on as a healthcare professional prioritises anyone who is considered to be vulnerable or at high risk because of their mental health. I overlook a very busy team and mental health service with another manager. Our departments focus on working with individuals who have been hospitalised into psychiatric units, or for those individuals who have been discharged from hospital whilst still requiring support as they begin to independently manage through their mental health. We also care for patients who have reached a crisis point.

My colleague and team members are dedicated to what we do. Together we work hard to provide the right mental health care to over 190 people living in Coventry and Warwickshire. This job would be very difficult without a wonderful team of professionals.

Mental health and COVID19

The coronavirus pandemic is affecting us all, those with and without mental health problems. Life as we know it has changed. Many people are naturally worried about what this pandemic will mean for us and for the ones that we love. Anyone who already has a mental health diagnosis will now be faced with additional challenges to their psychological wellbeing.

Mental health services are facing a number of challenges due to this unprecedented time, but we continue to work hard to ensure the wellbeing of our patients.

Some people reading this may currently be feeling ‘trapped’ or ‘confined’ at home. Others will have recognised that your mental health is taking a turn for the worse. There are a few tips and pointers that I have which you may find useful. The following coping mechanisms may assist in navigating you through this pandemic.

Ways to cope

Tip #1: Be kind. This year, mental health awareness week is focusing on the theme of being kind. Be kind to yourself and be kind to others, as this helps us to unlock our shared humanity, which during a pandemic can strengthen relationships and develop a sense of community. Simple acts of kindness can include: making a cup of tea, calling a friend, helping someone or checking in on an elderly neighbour or offering a listening ear to someone who might need it. You will soon realise you are not alone, and many others may have similar feelings to you. Compassion is always key.

Tip #2: Establishing a routine. Many of us may feel like we have been ‘robbed’ of our daily structure and routines as we are no longer leaving the house. However, this feeling can be countered by simply creating a new routine. If it helps, create a list of possible ways to spend your time. You may find it useful to write a list and to place it somewhere visible. Try to remain as close to your usual routine as possible, such as waking up and going to sleep around the same time. A good sleep is crucial to our mental well-being.

Tip #3: Keeping active. Science has proven time and time again that physical activity produces endorphins known as the ‘happy hormone’ in our brains. Endorphins help to combat feelings of depression and anxiety. Although it may be tricky to maintain the same level of activity which you may have had before lockdown, there are still some ways in which you can keep active. This includes: dancing to music, going for daily walks, following online workout routines (not all require equipment), doing some gardening or cleaning the house.

Tip #4: Mindfulness. If you have already tried tips 1-3 and still find yourself feeling ‘trapped’ in your own home, then regularly open all of your windows and let in the fresh air. If you feel overwhelmed and anxious, take a moment to focus on a household object, such as a clock. Whilst focusing on it, practice inhaling and exhaling deep breaths and being present in that moment. Regularly move around the house, and where possible, change the rooms you are spending your time in.

Tip #5: Limiting information. It is important to stay updated with the current news and to follow government guidelines, however limit the amount of time that you are giving to your digital bubble. Some sources are not always reliable, so be mindful of where you are finding your information from as news articles can negatively impact our moods and cause unnecessary fear. Speak to someone if you have read something that you are unsure of.

Once again, Be kind

Always remember, it is ok to not to be ok. Please be kind to yourself and to others. If you, or someone you know is struggling, please reach out for help. It can be difficult to keep yourselves well physically and mentally given the current climate. Try the tips and tricks that I have shared. This coping mechanism has worked for some of our most vulnerable patients and may work for you.

Reach out for help

Many mental health services are still running as usual and are ready to provide support to those who need it. Follow government guidelines. Stay safe and stay well. For further information, please check out Mind the charity, Mental Health Matters and the NHS website for further information.