Maintaining a healthy mental state during Covid- 19 pandemic
The Dora Awuah Foundation commemorates the month of March as Social Connectedness Month.
The goal is to raise awareness on the enormous benefits and ways of establishing and maintaining social connectedness in every facet of life. Dora Awuah Foundation is an NGO in Mental Health that promotes mental health through awareness creation on mental health issues, crisis intervention, and empowerment, focusing on the youth.
Social connectedness is a feeling of being part of a group, family, or community. People interact among themselves through face-to-face meetings, telephone conversations and social media platforms.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Social Connectedness remains an important means of promoting, preventing and managing existing mental health problems. Mental Health as defined by WHO is “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”.
Globally, researchers report increasing risks of developing mental health problems due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This article discusses ways of promoting mental health through Social Connections in the context of the Ghanaian culture in the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Mental Health and COVID-19 Pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic has transformed societies in diverse ways. The virus’s high infection rate necessitated the World Health Organization to institute protocols to curb the spread. These include mask-wearing, avoidance of handshakes and hugs, frequent hand washing and sanitizing, physical distancing, working from home and lockdowns around the globe.
Although these protocols have helped to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, the alteration in the usual way of living has and will continue to expose many people to psychosocial difficulties such as poor social connection and mental health problems.
That notwithstanding, according to WHO, about 113,076,707 cases have so far been recorded with over a 2.5million deaths globally. Ghana Health Service reports of about 84,349 cases in Ghana and 611 deaths as of 4th March 2021.
Families of persons who have lost their loved ones to the pandemic as well as those who have recovered from the infection are to a greater degree exposed to some level of psychological distress. For instance, in May 2020, a study by Adom and Mensah revealed that the majority of COVID-19 victims were exposed to stigma which culminated in varying degrees of psychological disorders.
As such, it is imperative for families, corporate organizations, religious institutions and educational institutions to design and implement programmes that have the potential to strengthen social ties, although the majority may not have the privilege of face-to-face physical interactions.
Social Connectedness and Mental Health
Social connections are beneficial for health outcomes in both collectivistic and individualistic communities. Public mental health and epidemiology literatures show that social connectedness casually protects and promotes mental health. Whenever people are unable to connect with friends, family and significant others, a social vacuum is created which can have a negative impact on neuropsychological functioning and general wellbeing.
In addition to its ability to prevent and promote mental health, social connectedness has curative properties. It offers the needed buffer to individuals to manage stressors and stay focused and motivated to adhere to ongoing mental health treatments.
There is compelling evidence from neuropsychiatric researches that social connectedness enhances brain health (structural, neurochemistry) resulting in positive feelings and mental processes. This applies to both adolescent and adult populations.
How to build Social connectedness during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Although the COVID-19 protocols continue to separate people from their loved ones, it is still possible to maintain an outstanding social connection with those we cherish through technology.
Technological advancement makes it easy to connect with family, friends and loved ones both locally and cross-culturally in different parts of the world using different platforms.
These include Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and others. Family meetings can be scheduled via Zoom, Skype and other online platforms.
These technologies permit family members to see each other and interact with much ease. Writing and sharing new ideas and, talking about experiences during the week with friends and loved ones via online meetings are all healthy ways of minimizing stress whiles strengthening friendship and family ties.
Also, frequent telephone conversations to check up on loved ones enhance a sense of belonging and provide an avenue to express any form of distress.
Additionally, sharing pictures and videos help stimulate the brain, provides diversional therapy, and eventually enhances some level of relaxation. It is still possible to participate in social events such as marriages and funerals through these platforms, where there are no challenges to accessing the internet.
We encourage individuals, families, organizations, religious and corporate bodies to provide opportunities for their members to connect socially while adhering to the COVID-19 protocols. Ingrained in our conscientiousness through our socialization as a people is the value to be there for each other.
If there is any time to live this value as a people and appropriate its multiple benefits for our collective survival and wellbeing, then it is now. Such are times when “biological vaccination” appears to have its fullest efficacy, not without the crucial accompaniment of “social vaccination” reflected in deep human connections, a sense of belonging, mutual aid and empathy. Social connections remain one of the cheapest and simplest approaches to promoting mental health both at the local and global levels.