Family is the First Line of Defence for Our Mental and Emotional Health in the Covid-19 Crisis
 

Family is the First Line of Defence for Our Mental and Emotional Health in the COVID-19 Crisis

Fostering safe and reciprocal relationships involves having intentional and vulnerable conversations

By Theresa Pong | 11 May 2020

In Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s latest Covid-19 address, he rallied the nation to join healthcare workers on the frontline of this crisis. 1 Local experts agree that stepping up personal and public hygiene is our immediate defence against the coronavirus, in addition to safe distancing and staying home.

While the circuit breaker measures protect our physical health, we also have to bolster efforts to protect our psycho-emotional well-being, which may have been affected by the current situation. 2

A New York Times article explains that the sense of unsafety caused by the pandemic registers in the neurons around our hearts, lungs, and viscera, altering our nervous system and changing the way we perceive threat. 3 Mental health experts acknowledge that the current uncertainty can cause anxiety, depression, and fearfulness. 4

Family and social support will boost our psychological resilience to weather these challenges. Research reveals that social support can mitigate our fear 5, increase our calmness and reduce our anxiety 6, decrease our risk of developing depression, and improve our ability to cope with stress. 7 It not only promotes our esteem and self-worth, but also encourages a more positive outlook and better mental health. 8

A study even suggests that family support, more than other types of social support, helps people who have undergone something traumatic to experience lower anxiety and better quality of life. 9

With work-from-home arrangements and home-based learning, most people are spending much more time with their families. However, this may not automatically translate into greater spousal intimacy or closer parent-child bonds.10 In fact, people who have difficulty with financial, childcare, and work-from-home responsibilities in this crisis may be experiencing higher levels of psychological distress. 11

We do not know when the COVID-19 crisis will end. But we know that what can counteract this fear and helplessness is fostering close reciprocal relationships that make us feel safe. This involves having intentional and vulnerable conversations that foster connection and comfort,12 beginning with those living under the same roof – our family members.

The pandemic and circuit breaker measures has indeed changed our daily living, causing blurred boundaries and confusion about how we go about interacting with one another in the family. However, through mutual understanding and open communication, family members can help one another to adapt to the many adjustments that have to be made in this period of time.

In addition to safe distancing and stay-home practices, our family may be the only close social support we have right now to weather this crisis. Strong family relationships need to be our first line of defence—not just to ensure our psycho-emotional well-being during this pandemic, but also to bolster our mental and emotional resilience for the long haul.

With closer family relationships and stronger family support, our families will also emerge stronger after the crisis.

Theresa Pong
Head, Counselling and Principal Counsellor
Focus on the Family Singapore


References

  1. PM Lee on Covid-19 situation: Key announcements and enhanced measures (3 Apr 2020)
  2. Covid-19 to have 'profound' mental health fallout (16 Apr 2020)
    Covid-19: Impact on mental health under the spotlight, as MOH clarifies stance on treatment amid 'circuit breaker' (7 Apr 2020)
  3. Mental Health in the Age of the Coronavirus (2 Apr 2020)
  4. Stressed & Anxious About Covid-19? These Tips From A Psychologist May Help (3 Apr 2020)
    Anxiety, confusion, rush for masks: How the Wuhan coronavirus makes people panicky and how to stay calm (1 Feb 2020)
    Managing our fear of the Wuhan virus (30 Jan 2020)
  5. Unpacking the buffering effect of social support figures: Social support attenuates fear acquisition (May 2017)
  6. Social support and oxytocin interact to suppress cortisol and subjective responses to psychosocial stress (2003)
  7. The Psychobiology of Depression and Resilience to Stress: Implications for Prevention and Treatment (2005)
  8. Family Relationships and Well-Being (Nov 2017)
  9. Social support, world assumptions, and exposure as predictors of anxiety and quality of life following a mass trauma (May 2011)
  10. Covid-19: Counsellors watching out for expected rise in family abuse victims seeking help (7 Apr 2020)
    China’s Divorce Spike Is a Warning to Rest of Locked-Down World (31 Mar 2020)
  11. People financially affected by COVID-19 outbreak are experiencing more psychological distress than others (30 Mar 2020)

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