Did you know that during the pandemic, liquor consumption in Colombia has risen 7 percent? And do you think that after the virus we will look good in the head?
(Keep reading: A journey through the mind of a compulsive hoarder).
I confess that this uncertainty has been weighing on me since the coronavirus began to rage, the pandemic appeared, the death toll increased and, consequently, the quarantine has been extended, the confinement of our lives, the loneliness, the unusual reunion of me with myself.
Daily life was never the same again. The world changed. The melancholy and desolation arrived. The harmony of the universe broke into pieces, although in some cases it seems that it was for the better: now the trees are green, the roses have blossomed again, again we hear the birds singing because we are not shouting, the waters of the sea are cleaner, the air feels purer.
And what happened to human beings? Did confinement and boredom change our mental health? How? What kinds of disorders could we suffer from? Or are we already suffering from them?
In the midst of all these fears, and as I advanced in search of guidance, a specific concern arose within me that made me feel even more dread: How will the pandemic affect children’s brains and souls?
The questions alone terrify me as overwhelming. If the answers cause us a similar shudder, then we are going to have to see, very carefully, what to do from now on.
That is why, anguished at such possibilities, I dedicated myself in recent weeks to consult the opinion and seek the guidance of the most authorized and expert doctors. But I did not limit myself to the Colombian case but, in addition, I searched the world for answers to my questions, starting with talking with psychiatrists and psychologists.
Colombia and the world
The first thing I found, and the most valuable, was an extraordinary document, produced and disseminated by a group called I-Circle, which brings together psychiatrists and psychologists from around the world, who work together to solve problems and help humanity.
Teachers of all languages and cultures participated in that work. I confess openly that I felt invaded by a mixture of pride and joy when I discovered, among such a group, the signature of the president of the Colombian Association of Mental Health.
This confinement with our own conscience is making us modify the table of values that governed our lives
His name is Miguel Ángel Sabogal García, a native of Cartagena, a doctor specialized in psychiatry and based in Bogotá, where today he directs the program called ‘Conscientemente’, which during this pandemic has done a great job in taking care of the mental state of workers in health and family members.
I raise my concerns with Dr. Sabogal and tell him that I am looking for reliable and serious information about the relationships that may exist between the coronavirus and the mental health of Colombians.
“That is the most pertinent topic to start the year,” he confirms to me from the start.
And, next, he tells me what are the most frequent problems that have been presented to Colombia during this pandemic.
“Let’s start with a categorical fact,” Dr. Sabogal begins. It is good to know that the pandemic affects all of us in our mental health, to different degrees, and these alterations can be temporary or permanent. That is why it is so important to detect them in time and prevent them.
The most frequent mental problems that attack during the pandemic, adds the doctor, “are stress, anxiety, depression and the abuse of alcohol and narcotic substances.”
This is why the ‘Conscientemente’ program, of which he is director of the Northern Health Network of Bogotá, is widely circulating your practical tips for preventing mental health problems in the pandemic.
(Read also: 21 keys to leading a healthy digital life in 2021).
For starters, he suggests sleeping eight hours a night. “Only at night does our brain heal itself,” the doctor informs me. And then he recommends a period of daily exercises, “because this reduces stress levels, improves mood and quality of sleep.”
The human relationship is fundamental in this prevention plan. “Talking daily to someone you trust avoids the cumulative effect of stress.” And watch out for this, be very careful: do not consume alcohol, or smoke, or use any psychoactive substance. “They seem to calm anxiety, but they are neurotoxic and end up damaging your mental health permanently.”
A really interesting recommendation, among those made by the psychiatrist Sabogal, is to do some artistic activity at least twice a week. “For example, drawing, playing an instrument, dancing or singing,” he adds. “This reduces the levels of stress and anxiety and improves the mood.” You know: sing even if you can’t sing, because it’s not about winning the Grammy award; it is about stimulating your mind and your soul.
(You may be interested in: Learn what the keys to mental freedom are).
Experts call “active breaks” the brief suspension in favor of health that is made in daily activities, whether work or study. “A walk, a little gymnastics, being in motion for about ten minutes every two hours reduces stress levels,” explains Dr. Sabogal.
This is how spiritual growth is cultivated, to which the doctor adds that “It is advisable to have a hobby or pastime such as reading, listening to music, watching movies, bird watching. This makes people feel more motivated by the healthy use of their free time and reduces the levels of anxiety and depression ”.
And, in addition, he recommends periodically consulting a mental health specialist, “to avoid permanent damage. All mental problems are preventable if they are consulted and detected in time ”.
(Follow with: The sad life testimony of a woman suffering from schizophrenia).
And after the pandemic?
Then we talk not only about Colombia but also about the rest of the world. And that’s when the doctor explains to me that the effects of the pandemic on mental health are a generalized phenomenon, “since the entire population suffers some degree of stress and, in other percentages, some degree of anxiety and depression.” That is what explains that, In the most recent months, alcohol consumption in Colombia has grown 7 percent compared to pre-pandemic figures.
–In addition –adds Dr Sabogal–, due to the economic crisis that this situation produces, and also due to the numerous deaths, isolation and social distances, there has been a significant increase in mental illnesses and psychiatric hospitalizations.
(You may be interested in: Post-traumatic stress and depression, effects of covid-19 on mental health).
Experts predict that this situation will extend beyond the pandemic, “Since the effects of stress are cumulative and the consequences can continue to be seen several years later.”
This is where we enter to examine the specific case of the child population. I ask Dr. Sabogal if the effects of the pandemic on the minds of children are worse or less severe than in adults.
During the pandemic, adults have brought into their homes the habit of liquors, cigarettes or drugs, which they already consumed, and this is how it spread to children
“They are very different,” he answers. Arguably, in general terms, the mental health of children has also been affected by this epidemic of the virus. The most frequent effects in childhood, as we are seeing it, are conduct disorders and sleep disorders due to changes in habits and lack of physical activity.
In these months, Colombian children are suffering from anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.
“Children have also indulged in alcohol and stimulant drug use,” adds the doctor, “at ages as young as six or eight years of age. During the pandemic, adults have brought into their homes the habit of liquors, cigarettes or drugs, which they already consumed, and this is how it spread to children.
From hunger to fat
It is then that the psychiatrist Sabogal puts his finger on what seems to be a paradox that attacks people, but especially the little ones, in these days of pandemic.
“When it comes to children,” he says, “a two-way phenomenon is also accentuated in them, more than in older ones.” The first is that, Due to the economic crisis, families have had to reduce the number of meals per day. This increases malnutrition in the country and causes delays in the mental development of children and young people and leaves them long-term consequences.
The other group of children, on the other hand, have their three daily meals, snacks and snacks. “But, as they are isolated and without any physical activity, they develop obesity, with the consequences that we know for their physical health and self-esteem.”
That is the true description of a tragedy: the drama occurs with similar damage either due to abundance or scarcity. Out of hunger or tiredness.
Here, then, are reviewed by a genuine specialist, the effects of the coronavirus on the mental health of humanity. What Dr. Sabogal does in this chronicle is a careful analysis of useful lessons for the mind and body of Colombians.
For my part, and speaking here in the kitchen, I have the ingrained impression that the emotional values of the soul and the moral values of the spirit are also changing because of the pandemic. This confinement with our own conscience is making us modify the table of values that governed our lives.
(Continue reading: The three questions to achieve happiness).
Ten months ago, before the first infected appeared, our most important priorities were related to material matters and money: How do I get more money, this year I have to change the car, we have to put new furniture in the house.
Instead, now, we open the window to see the birds that are singing. We value more than ever a conversation with family or a virtual chat with friends. This horrendous tragedy had to serve something.
Special for THE TIME