WATCH THIS SPACE FOR INFORMATION ABOUT THE UPCOMING LAUNCH OF THE LANCET COMMISSION ON ENDING STIGMA AND DISCRIMINATION IN MENTAL HEALTH
To be launched 10 October 2022
A team from the GMHPN worked on this project and engaged with people with lived experience through our membership to obtain perspectives on interpersonal relationships, coping mechanisms and self-awareness that emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The aim was to develop materials that would highlight key messaging related to COVID-19 and mental health.
"We, humans, are very peculiar creatures, as we live in this world, every bit of our DNA demands social connection in the fact that’s one of the main things that set us apart from other creatures. The desire to find comfort and the need to find joy in the company of others. Every gesture, facial expression, the setup in the community encourages and depends on this bond that we create with beloved ones and those around us. It also contributes to our healthy development and our wellbeing.
For centuries we have been deeply connected and progressed as civilized beings. As we get busy and become more focused on technology; we still managed to find ways to keep in touch through social media finding ways to keep it more authentic and keep the real feel.
There has not been anything like this pandemic that interrupted our social life and changed the course of history. For over a year many lost dear ones, their jobs, their daily routines, and were stuck at home, while as a nation we have witnessed the flaws of our system. Despite all that we have managed to connect with friends, pursue our studies, work from home and send virtual hugs and emojis to show our facial expressions. Despite all the hardships we find little sunshine in the darkest of times. Instead of giving up, we find new ways to cope, to connect to find a cure.
As a lived experience I enjoy a daily routine and when I feel like I can't control my surroundings it bothered me. During this pandemic, schools were closed and as a teacher it was hard, staying home during lockdowns made me bored and the daily news I heard increased my anxiety. Not having a proper flow of information about the pandemic, noticing the great nations having a hard time keeping it under control, those who lost hope taking extreme measures bothered me to the core. I was scared for myself and my beloved ones. After a long depressive state, I knew I was the only one who can pick myself up. I needed to find new hobbies, self-care routines, and a new purpose. I choose to learn about new things and challenge myself.
We were able to find out that many others were able to find substitutes for old habits. Among our GMHPN members we were able to find above 60% who spent their time gardening, reading, and gaming. 60% still continued their full-time jobs and 55% continued their advocacy work, knowing that it was needed during this situation more than ever. Members took part in various activities to ensure their wellbeing, including exercise (45%), good old sleeping (30%), visiting family (25%), meditation (20%), peer support groups (15%), therapy (10%), while 40% challenged themselves to new coping methods and 20% were experimenting on other and alternative options.
Even though the best way to fight this pandemic was physical distancing and isolation, it doesn't mean that we can be locked away from everything. Thank goodness for the technology we have managed and pull through. Being busy makes the days count and a busy mind brings productivity and shuns down bad thoughts. An exhausted body sleeps soundly and a properly nourished mind brings forth solutions. As human beings we will always find ways and now since we have faced and managed through this journey, we are better prepared for the next crisis."
"The pandemic that has hit us since last year brings so many impacts in our life. Globally, mental health issue is increasing due to the pandemic and when we look deeply at ourselves, we can see how fragile we are in this situation. Reflecting on our lived experience, we acknowledge that it has bring so much stress for us. We really do not want our own precious life and our beloved lives to be threatened by this disease that it also brings the anxiety of being infected or infecting others are real. This illness anxiety might also have exacerbated by the overwhelming uncertainties about our future, loss of income, lack of structural support, as well as the viral misinformation.
While we are trying our best to adhere to physical distancing norms, as we believe it is a life-saving gesture for us and people around us, as people with lived experience we also know that how this can result in a very devastating loneliness. Few of us also struggle on their way to find any reliable support for their life. At first, it was hard to deal with this isolated and empty feeling, because as social beings, we are all craving for face to face interaction and warm physical touch. The whole world is collectively lonely, an inevitable consequence for the best attempt we can do for protecting ourselves and our beloved ones. This is a heart breaking fact yet it is also relieving that we know we share a common experience within this pandemic.
In some way, by having reflected through this loneliness, we know how important our social support can be. Loneliness is indeed an alarm for us to go deeper into our relational selves, seeing what we truly need from others and the best way to connect with them. Family and friends become treasures for us. Throughout these pandemics, we rely on the most reliable person who can be reached out when it gets too empty and dark for us. Some of us might also finally realized that there is another person who bears their own loneliness because they also miss us as a precious figure in their life. This loving connection grows stronger than ever even though we are physically separated and craving for each other’s physical presence and touch.
The pandemic that came as a very sudden and significant change, beyond our control has made us feel like we are so insignificant and helpless. However, as a person with lived experience we have gone through some dark times. Helplessness is something we are familiar with, yet it can be passed through. By doing our advocacy work, we are finding our strength and meaning. We try to do our best to maintain our significance in this universe, while acknowledging that there are things that we cannot control. Our continuous advocacy work has not only been driven by our compassion to others – it is also a kind of compassion to our self too, it is one of other things that help to sooth our self throughout this soul crushing pandemic. Within the advocacy work, we know that we still have some power to do something, that we as a human being, are capable to do more.
And after all, this pandemic reminds us that we are all human who are fragile and vulnerable. We need to take care of ourselves too. Our hobbies no longer be enjoyable activities in our leisure time. It becomes a life-saving activity that reminds us to take a break. It makes feel us the need to stop and pause, just for the sake of doing the best thing we have. We are not only about our work, achievement, and worth in the eyes of others. In doing our hobbies throughout this pandemic, we find solace in our self who is still capable of standing up and walking through the days when the whole world goes down.
This pandemic brings the worst things out throughout the world, and we are all impacted by it. Regardless of the dark times, we still stand up and doing whatever we can do as people with lived experience. This is how we protect and appreciate our lives and our beloved ones in this challenging times. In the future, if any pandemic hits, we know that we already have this lesson. We will do our best through our advocacy work to provide better structural and financial support for those who are negatively impacted. We will strengthen the capacity to be compassionately listening to our peers as well as to our self. Endless advocacy work might be needed for a better future, but we know that it would not be useless. It will help us as well as others to face any future pandemic if it ever hits again. At the very, they are working for us now to go through this pandemic. We believe that even though the future is bleak at the moment, but we still have hope and have done our best. Just like helplessness, hopelessness is something we are familiar with, but we also believe, by doing our best effort, this too shall pass."
Personally, this is an ongoing question for me as the face of society continues to change, on a day-to-day basis. What some are now referring to as 'the new normal' invites many to question what those of us with mental health conditions have questioned for years… what is 'normal'?
Is it normal to feel anxious about falling ill? Is it normal to feel safe behind a mask? Is it normal to isolate and feel intense emotions of loneliness, depression and hopelessness? Is it normal to disconnect from family/loved ones?
The irony is that these are often the questions that living with a mental health condition poses regularly. The anxiety of relapse; hiding 'behind a mask' in fear that you will be stigmatised and victimised; continuous feelings of loneliness, depression and hopelessness and at times, being ostracised from family and loved ones because of your mental health condition, to mentioned but a few.
With this, I dare suggest that having a mental health condition better prepared some of us with lived experience for the emotional and mental health impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. To demonstrate this suggestion, we [Global Mental Health Peer Network] conducted a survey asking people with lived experience if they felt having a mental health condition better prepared them for the stress of dealing with the pandemic.
Interestingly, 85% of respondents said to a large extent it did or most definitely, that it did. 15% of respondents felt that having a mental health condition did not help prepare them for the stresses of the pandemic.
Reducing Stigma through Sharing our Recovery Stories
Mental health conditions remains highly stigmatised, and remains the primary reason why persons avoid seeking treatment. By sharing our stories, we hope to help break down these stigmas, and remind others that recovery is possible. The following are some of ours.
Transforming the World Together
Transforming the World Together is our talk show on our YouTube Channel. Episodes focus on a range of topics related to mental health and human rights from lived experience perspectives with our very own Deputy CEO, Claudia Sartor, as the host of the show.
We have produced 4 episodes which are published on our YouTube channel - the episode topics include:
Our Global Voice
Through the "Our Global Voice" project, we embarked on a quest to seek lived experience perspectives from India, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa and the United States, on the impact of receiving a diagnosis of a mental health condition.
This project was supported by a grant from the Foundation Open Society Institute
in cooperation with the Public Health Program of the Open Society Foundations.
The Global Mental Health Peer Network is registered as a Non-Profit Organisation (NPO 212-449) under the South African Non-Profit Organisations Act 71 of 1997, and is registered as a Public Benefit Organisation (PBO 930065563) with the South African Revenue Services.
The Global Mental Health Peer Network is kindly supported by the Foundation to Promote Open Society (FPOS)