The COVID-19 lockdowns have been hard on everyone. Hunkering down in our homes, whether we stay with friends, family, or by ourselves, and not stepping out for a prolonged period has definitely taken a toll on people’s mental health. People have reported higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression, and feelings of cabin fever.
For many, these mental health challenges are new and for some, they have suddenly had to become caregivers and have been left confused and clueless about how to handle it, especially when someone they live with is facing such challenges. “I have had a lot of people come to me with questions about how to handle feelings of anxiety and depression, since it’s the first time they’re facing it, and they don’t know how to react,” Debasmita Sinha, a psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at D.Y. Patil college in Pune, told Re:Set.
We asked Sinha for tips on how to help someone you live with navigate mental health challenges during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Watch for patterns in behaviour
Recognition is always the first step to dealing with anything. Watch your roommate’s behaviour, see how they are behaving differently — are they repeating a certain activity like a nervous tick, repeating a phrase, or not eating properly? Are they more or less withdrawn? Are they not communicating like they used to? Recognizing these shifts in behaviour will help you understand how to approach them.
Have clear channels of communication
According to Sinha, establishing a clear line of communication, with honesty and clarity is important. “Check in with them regularly, ask them if they are OK and if they would like to talk about what they are feeling. Speak to them about what you are noticing about them and what you can do to help,” Sinha said and underlined the need for honesty in these conversations, so as to make the other person feel comfortable.
Encourage seeking help
“Seeking help should always be the first step when it comes to mental health challenges. Treat it with the same urgency you would a physical ailment. Encourage the person to seek professional help in any form,” said Sinha, adding that contacting a therapist is not the only way to seek support. “Calling one of the many helplines is always a good start. These free helplines guide you in understanding the basics of mental health and how to deal with challenges. There are also some AI-based apps that operate similarly,” she said.
As therapy can be an expensive option, there are also free support groups and online resources for those navigating mental health challenges.
With this, however, it is important not to push the other person too much to get help. You can suggest it, but asking them repeatedly may backfire and demotivate them. If they are adamant, Sinha suggested taking a step back and letting them find their way, while still holding space for them to come to you whenever they need.
Understand their triggers
Part of living with someone who has mental health challenges is recognizing their triggers. These could be anything — from certain kinds of actions to using certain words to even certain kinds of music — that disrupt their state of mind. Speaking to them about their triggers and avoiding them will help your roommate feel safer and calmer.
Sinha suggests creating an environment of self-care in your home. “Self-care is really important when it comes to dealing with mental health. If your roommate sees you practicing self-care, it increases the possibility of them participating in those activities, too, and will help them feel better,” she said. It is also important for you, the person making space for another, to practice self-care and give yourself a break from time to time.