The global impact of coronavirus has many of us feeling powerless, anxious and depressed. Our routines have been turned upside down and we are physically distant from friends and family. Despite the feelings of isolation and the onslaught on frightening headlines, it is important to remember that mental health resources are still available.
Counsellors and psychiatrists have been working behind the scenes to step up their remote capabilities through online sessions, social media support groups and consultations by phone.
Dr. Marc Lockhart, chairperson of the Cayman Islands Mental Health Commission, is one of those professionals. He spoke to the Cayman Compass about coping tips to adapt to this new world we are now living in.
Listen to the full conversation here. Note that the audio player may take a moment to load.
Compass: Welcome to the Cayman Compass podcast. This is your host, Kayla Young. Now, it’s been a few weeks since we’ve recorded an episode. Like many of you out there, the Compass staff has been adjusting to this new reality that coronavirus has unleashed upon us, adjusting our work, our social, our school, our family schedules, all while trying to navigate some very frightening headlines and daily updates about new regulations and new changes to our lives.
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably feeling a bit or a lot of anxiety right now. That’s natural. This is all a lot to process. So, in this episode, I want to turn the focus to mental health. While we all may feel quite isolated right now in our homes and apartments, locked away from our friends and the people we would normally turn to for comfort, it’s important to remember that resources are still available to us. Therapists are turning increasingly to teleconferencing, Zoom, Skype, different video tools to connect with people in need. So, I caught up with Dr. Marc Lockhart, chairperson of the Cayman Islands Mental Health Commission to talk about exactly that: our mental health, how to connect with resources if we find we are in need of them right now, some coping mechanisms that we can all implement to help us adjust a bit better and how to navigate this new world that we’re all living in. You’ll have to forgive the audio quality just a bit. Staying true to social distancing guidelines and proving that, yes, you can connect with a therapist right now over video, Dr Lockhart and I connected via Skype.
Compass: So, Marc, just to start off, can you give us an introduction to who you are and what you do?
Dr. Lockhart: Yes, so, I am Marc Lockhart. I’m a psychiatrist. I have been working in the Cayman Islands now for almost 19 years. I am a general psychiatrist, so I see both adults, children, deal with lots of other things, serious mental illness, forensic type issues.
I am the chair of the Mental Health Commission for the Cayman Islands, and I also have a private practice part time. And I also work part time at the hospital where I manage the inpatient unit. So, I wear a lot of different hats and all of them have been here in the Cayman Islands for a long, long time.
Compass: Now, it feels like coronavirus has suddenly taken over our lives. And I imagine a lot of people are having difficulty coping with all the changes, all of the stress. And so I wanted to check in with you to see what advice you might be able to provide. Dr. Lockhart: Okay, a great question. So, first of all, coronavirus, to some extent, has taken over our lives and I have been repeating that we need to accept that. Generally, what happens is, we think that and then we use denial. We say, well, no, no, let me push that away. So, the first thing we have to accept is that these are uncharted, unusual, very challenging times that we’re living in.
And there’s a lot of uncertainty and that uncertainty is something that we as human beings do not like. We generally like to know what’s going to happen. We like our schedules. We like to know where we’re going to be as best as possible. We like to know what we’re doing this weekend, what we’re doing next week.
Most of us don’t like surprises. Most of the time, the only time we even remotely like a surprise is when it’s favourable to us. So, this creates a sense of disruption emotionally just in terms of what’s going on. The other thing, it also is causing is a disruption in terms of our schedules.
Schools are closed. We’re working from home now. We’re practicing this social distancing. Some of us are being isolated, so that is exacerbating, making worse already that discomfort that we all have with what’s going on. So, that is impacting us all.
Compass: Our schedules has been one of the biggest, most obvious changes affecting most of us, and you know, I really sympathise with families right now who are juggling maybe working from home and having their children learning from home. Are there any tips you could provide families about how they can manage all these new demands and also keep the peace as best possible?
Dr. Lockhart: Exactly. So, excellent question and we are seeing that right now, Kayla. When I say “we”, [I mean] all of the mental health practitioners. I just got a call this morning from a colleague of mine who’s actually an obstetrician and he’s just said that over the past five days, he’s had six different calls from patients having difficulty adjusting to having the younger kids at home. They’ve just delivered babies recently and they’re trying to work from home or manage things or even take care of all the kids. And it’s really disruptive and increasing anxiety, affecting things like sleep patterns. So the first thing we say is, again, accepting that there are changes in our schedule, that things are disruptive, number one. And number two, it’s going to take us some time to reorganise and reestablish a schedule, and in order for that to be done, we are going to have to really do something tangible. We need to sit down, make a list, write things down in terms of how we’re going to manage having the kids at home, working from home, preparing meals, keeping a distance from others, giving them activities.
It’s a lot of things. So, what I suggest is that we literally write things out, make a to-do list. It helps to make us feel more organised and actually does tangibly make us more organised. And it reduces that feeling of being overwhelmed. So, make a list. What we could include in that list is, from X time to X time, the kids are going to be in school or taking their classes online.
We’re going to do it in this room of the house. I’m going to be doing X. When they’re doing that, we’re going to check in at certain times. Just have a to-do list and a schedule. Test that schedule because it might not work out exactly as we planned initially. So, again, it’s giving us that freedom and ability to understand that this is all new.
It’s going to take you about seven to 10 days to really get into a schedule and get things organised. So be patient with yourself, but don’t just rely on time to change things. We have to really involve ourselves by making a list and trying to organise ourselves cognitively with what we have to face.
Compass: Great. And I imagine a big part of that also is that we communicate our expectations with our family members, that we also establish, okay, this is what I need to get my work done. This is what you need to get what you need to get done.
Dr. Lockhart: Exactly and that gives us what we call a sense of agency and control.
We, again, we start to organise our lives. We start to focus on the things that we do have power over during a time of uncertainty. And that helps to balance some of the anxiety we feel. And it also helps us to be more productive and to get things started.
Compass: Now, you mentioned the importance of accepting the situation we’re in, rather than denying it and avoiding it. What does that look like? Especially if it’s something that’s scary or feels overwhelming to us.
Dr. Lockhart: Excellent question. So, what that looks like is, by focussing on facts, focussing on truth, rather than focussing on our fear and then using social media and other forms of information that are not reliable – and we have to be careful because we as human beings, many times when we feel scared, we start to seek information, as much information as we can. And that helps us to give us a sense that we are working on things, we’re gaining some upper hand on what we’re feeling, but in the age in which we live in, as you know, we’re now in an age of over-abundance of information, and there’s a lot of valuable information out there.
There’s also a lot of disinformation, so being very careful of the type of information that we are inputting in our brain and in our mind. Making sure that it is okay, that it is truthful and it is reliable. And then the other side of that coin is that we don’t want to do too much of that.