2020 is turning out to be a year like no other and now more than ever, our mental health resilience is critical. During the pandemic, we saw rising anxiety levels, increasing depressive thoughts and use of substances. Evidence is suggesting that mental illness is the pandemic within the COVID-19 pandemic.
Interestingly, although COVID-19 has, and is, crippling many, it is likely that we will develop long-term resilience. New research suggests that actively cultivating social support, adaptive meaning, and direct prosocial behaviours to reach the most vulnerable can have powerful mental health resilience promoting effects.
For this article, as the year draws to a close, we present four common myths about resilience to provide strategies to build resiliency in individuals and the community as we manage and emerge from the pandemic.
Myth 1: Exposure to Trauma Creates Mental Illness
Most individuals are exposed to at least one and often several traumatic events during the course of their lifetime. For example, the death of a loved one and life-threatening medical events. The link between traumatic events and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder (PCBD) is well-known. However, the majority of individuals who are exposed to a traumatic event do not develop PTSD, and only a minority of individuals who lose a spouse or child develop clinical depression.
A common response to trauma is an increase in mental health resilience and gradual recovery. Research after the 9/11 attacks show that 86% of first responders do not have PTSD. Also, only 10% of Chinese health care workers at the front-line of the SARS outbreak reported PTSD symptoms.
It is likely, given historic evidence, that long-term resiliency will be the most common outcome from the COVID-19 pandemic, even for front-line workers and those directly impacted by the disease.
Myth 2: Resilient People Don’t Have Bad Days or Weeks
A recent definition of mental health resilience suggests that it is
the constellation of behaviours that prompt individuals and communities to persist and move forward despite adversity.
The most resilient among us will have bad days and will have negative emotions. But it’s their response to them that matters. Resilience means continuing to show up and move forward, even when we’re at our lowest.
We’re likely to experience an increase in anxiety, loneliness, and sadness, but it doesn’t mean we are not resilient. Engaging in adaptive behaviours while struggling or experiencing intense fear, anxiety, or grief, is resilience. Examples of adaptive behaviour include active problem solving, seeking social support, sharing with others that you are struggling right now, tolerating uncertainty, and generating hope for the future.
See our article, Detaching from Work Helps Our Mental Health.
Myth 3: You’re Either Resilient or You’re Not
Resilience is built and learned over time and shaped by our behaviours, thoughts and the environment we live and work in. Significantly, social support is a great builder of mental health resilience. The more support you have, even when you don’t lean on it, the more likely your confidence and resilience will grow. Being ‘in this together’ helps to bolster resilience and provide a sense of purpose to survive the pandemic.
Strong supportive communities are essential conduits for material and emotional resources when individuals need them the most. Acts of tolerance, support, and kindness can strongly buffer against the negative effects of the pandemic to build mentally resilient people. Being grateful and using mindfulness meditations also help to reduce negative thoughts.
See our article, COVID-19 and Mental Health Support.
Myth 4: Poor Mental Health Outcomes from COVID-19 is a Hoax
The COVID-19 pandemic is undoubtedly leading to poor mental health outcomes, especially in the short-term. 50-75% of health-care workers in China are beginning to report increased depression symptoms. This type of distress is not unusual in the short-term.
Also, people are isolated in unsafe environments and there’s a reported rise in domestic violence cases. During periods of lock-down access to mental health care and social services is slower. And, working from home arrangements can increase feelings of isolation and disconnect.
However, this is where strong social and community support can play a significant positive role. Time will tell if poor mental health outcomes become long term issues or if our mental health resilience kicks in as we overcome this adversity called COVID-19.
See our article, COVID-19: Safely Working From Home.
How You Can Build Resilience Through Training
As an organisation, you have a duty of care to look after your employee’s mental health. One way to do that is to build their mental health resilience by teaching them coping strategies.
This is where the Tap into Safety online and mobile-friendly training platform can help with our comprehensive mental health training and support. Examples of our microlearning courses include:
- Helping Employees with Mental Health Concerns
- Signs of Declining Mental Health in Employees
- Workload and Burnout
- Fatigue Management
The COVID-19 pandemic is not declining as we draw towards the end of 2020. The global community is working together to collectively develop a vaccine. Many countries are experiencing increased case numbers as they work through second and third waves of infections.
However, as human beings, we have an incredible capacity to adapt and heal from adversity and we do this best when we support each other. Actively cultivating social support, adaptive meaning, and direct prosocial behaviours to reach the most vulnerable can have powerful mental health resilience promoting effects.
This article is also available on the Tap into Safety Podcast. Why not check it out to see our other talks on safety, mental health and leadership!