Local psychologists have noted an increase in mental health challenges and expect it to continue over the holiday period as travel remains limited due to health protocols.

Dr. Erica Lam, clinical psychologist and director at Aspire Therapeutic Services, in response to queries about the situation in Cayman, said the challenges are manifesting through different emotions.

“We see more of an increase of anxiety, a sense of hopelessness and [being] trapped. At the same time, we see some resiliency in our community where people are able to use this time to reinvest in themselves and their immediate families,” Lam said in an emailed response to the Cayman Compass.

Lam, who is also an executive member of the Alex Panton Foundation, said COVID-19 has tested the mental health of many over 2020, and during the holiday season it is no different.

“Humans [are] social creatures…. Evolutionary speaking, being in a group enhances our survival. So, at a time of distress or threat, we go towards others to seek reassurance and comfort. The restriction and social distancing in general are against our human nature,” she said.

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Dr. Erica Lam, clinical psychologist and director at Aspire Therapeutic Services.

Lam pointed out that prolonged isolation and not being able to be close to loved ones and families “create a gap in our social engagement, which affect our ability to regulate because we are not able to get comfort by being close to our loved ones”.

These experiences, if extended, have an emotional impact, she said.

This year has been difficult for many, Lam added.

“In general, the mental health community is seeing an increase of help seeking, some [of which] are due to the prolonged threat of the pandemic. Some are the results of the loss of [a] job, stability and loved ones. The prolonged threat of the virus would make us more vulnerable to stress,” she said.

 

Signs to
look out for

  • Excessive worry, or anxiety
  • Long-lasting sadness or irritability
  • Extreme changes in moods
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping pattern

Lam pointed to signs people can look out for to recognise if someone is in mental distress, such as excessive worry, anxiety, long-lasting sadness or irritability, extreme changes in moods, social withdrawal and dramatic changes in eating or sleeping patterns.

Lam suggested those experiencing any such signs should “increase engagement with others, contact with people, e.g., join social events, team sport, faith events, try new challenges or learn something new. Get help [like the] EAP [Employee Assistance Programme], Department of Counselling and use the mental health helpline,” she said.

The COVID-19 experience, Alex Panton Foundation founder Jane Panton said, has not been all negative. She pointed out that people are seeking help and that was a positive step, adding that the restrictions have also brought families together.

She highlighted one case in which a troubled teenager who struggled with mental illness all his life was able to reconnect with his family and experience real progress over the pandemic period in Cayman.

“He’s not graduated from high school, he’s been expelled. He’s just had anger issues constantly and before lockdown he had a really serious anxiety attack and he had to be hospitalised. His mom says that during lockdown they became closer as a family. They learned to talk about their feelings and basically externalise what was going on and learn how to express themselves to each other,” she said.

Cayman, Panton said, was able to manage COVID-19 well and, while there were challenges, the community came together to make it work rather that rebel.

“We’re just so lucky that we did not have that kind of attitude in Cayman. We took opportunities to explore other things, other avenues that we were thinking about exploring, like being creative, planting gardens… so many positive things came out of it,” she said.

Panton said people who previously had no mental health issues suffered from anxiety and depression because they missed being around their friends and classmates.

However, others who in the past had suffered from depression and anxiety, found new ways of expressing themselves, externalising their pain and communicating with others.

“I’ve seen the positive of COVID,” she added.

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