Mental health professionals offer tips for emerging from pandemic


Everyone in Ireland will have to undertake a psychological journey as society re-emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic, a leading mental health professional has said.

“We will all have to re-train ourselves around social interactions and take reasonable risks as we re-engage face to face and end all these zoom calls,” said Paul Gilligan, CEO of St Patrick’s Mental Health Services.

Mr Gilligan was speaking at the #MindYourSelfie webinar on Thursday, which focused on how young people can best prepare themselves for life after lockdown.

He said that, at some level, everyone is suffering from a post-traumatic stress reaction and we need to give ourselves time to talk about what we have come through.

“There is still a huge amount of uncertainty and none of us have been through a pandemic before so we don’t [FULLY]know the emotional and psychological impact of it,” he said.

“There is a sense of optimism and happiness – sometimes close to euphoria – that this is nearly over and things will change back to normal, but there will be feelings of anger, depression and a sense of loss that people will experience in different ways,” he said.

Keen not to “talk up” a mental health pandemic as an inevitable fallout of the Covid pandemic, Mr Gilligan said that most people will not need professional help.

He offered three tips for young people – and everyone else – to cope with life after lockdown.

Mr Gilligan, who is a clinical psychologist, said that firstly people need to “believe that we are loved, that we are good people and that we have the ability to be happy”.

He said emotional honesty will be “50 per cent of the journey” out of this pandemic for individuals. “We all have a deep seated psychological resilience and connecting with that will be really important coming out of this pandemic.”

His second tip is “to trust others”. He said: “Most young people know that they can trust family, teachers and organisations and this is a reminder that it’s important to express how you feel, listen and communicate with other people you trust.”

His third tip is “to embrace uncertainty”.

“There have been huge losses which have been different for each of us but it’s important that we share our Covid stories,” he said.

According to Mr Gilligan, some people will want to move on quickly from Covid-19, but there needs to be a space to process what has happened.

“Some young people feel they’ve lost a year and want to forget it ever happened. For any trauma, if you move on too early, you’re not giving yourself the space you need to talk.”

Speaking at the same webinar, Dr Aideen O’Neill, clinical psychologist at St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, said that lockdowns created specific difficulties for young people with eating disorders.

“Unpredictability makes us all more anxious and some people became preoccupied with food as a way of staying in control. The emphasis in social media about food and fitness and lockdown step challenges was a bit unhelpful for some young people,” she said.

Dr O’Neill advised young people struggling with eating disorders to talk about how they are feeling and seek support from those around them.

Representatives from the youth mental health charity, Spunout, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the LGBT+ support group BelongTo were among the other organizations at the webinar offering support to young people on life after lockdown.

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