This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Elisa Torquato, a second year medical student at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Natal, Brazil. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.
A rising topic on media, and a concerning issue on a post-modern society, the discussion about mental health has been increasing exponentially, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when social distancing, financial struggles, loss of loved ones, and shortage of health resources may cause profound mental distress. In a matter of fact, disasters such as the above have been thoroughly associated with a significantly higher prevalence of psychological disorders and a wide array of mental and emotional afflictions. Therefore, hospitals and universities have been offering psychosocial services for health care providers in the frontline and for the general population. However, a important question arises: how can we, as individuals, collaborate to improve the mental health of others and our own?
The answer to this query is not simple, and to start reflecting about it one must reminisce on an ancient greek aphorism: “know thyself”. But what does it truly mean? The understanding of the human nature and, thus, human behaviour lies within the wise use of introspection. Looking inwards and accepting our emotions and fears as an natural response is imperative to deeply comprehend and help others. So, the knowledge of one’s true self is crucial to perceive differences and similarities between the ‘me’ and the ‘other’, and has a major influence on how we socialize.
Nevertheless, it is very important to use that acknowledgement of yourself to develop empathy and compassion towards others, instead of developing a egocentric cognitive bias. That way, we can focus on preventing mental distress, by assessing the mental and emotional state of friends, relatives and acquaintances; involving in purposeful activities; and perhaps even promoting mental health awareness on social media. Besides, in a globalized world, it is essential not to fall into the trap of constantly seeking pandemic-related news, and, thus, experiencing an overload of information, which can increase anxiety and stress.
Furthermore, Psychological First Aid has been recommended by many specialists, including WHO, after traumatic events – much like the Covid-19 pandemic. What is interesting about such method is that it is not necessarily conducted by health care workers, and it can be used by common people to support others in times of needs. Its strategy basically consists of three steps: (1) listening, for that we have to remain calm and patient, and show empathy and comprehension by not judging one’s feelings and emotions; (2) assisting, by encouraging healthy behaviours and habits, elucidating possible doubts and supporting actions that lead to their recovery, such as seeking for professional help; and (3) connecting, to the person who is suffering, and stimulating them to deepen their bonds with loved ones. These steps are not meant to be strict rules, but rather recommendations on how to improve our relationships in midst of our current situation. What we must do right now is remembering an quote attributed to Mother Teresa: “sometimes we feel that what we do is nothing but a drop of water in the sea. But the sea would be smaller if it lacked a drop.
About the author
Elisa Torquato is a second year medical student at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Natal, Brazil, and a member of International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA BRAZIL). She has been involved in multiple initiatives in health care, especially in the field of health awareness and education.