The current isolation and the uncertainty caused by the corona virus burden people worldwide. It hit China first. Theo Cope has been a psychotherapist in China’s capital Beijing for several years, and is currently the head of the mental health department at Raffles Medical Clinic.
“Every family reacts differently, but they all have to deal with a number of other stress factors such as fear, anxiety, and anxiety,” observed Cope. In the interview, he advises giving the brain a break from brooding and explains techniques that can be used to achieve this.
He also sees the crisis as an opportunity for people to make themselves more resistant to uncertainties. “Now that people in quarantine have more time, they should try to develop these skills instead of spending time on digital devices or other forms of distraction,” said Cope.
He sees a higher divorce rate for China since the crisis, and the number of suicides could also increase. “It depends a lot on how psychiatric institutions and the government are able to remedy the situation,” said Cope.
Read the entire interview here:
China is about a month ahead of Germany in the effects of the virus on people’s everyday lives. How did the situation affect people in China mentally?
There are a lot of challenges that people have to face depending on their situation. Children are at home trying to study for school, and their parents are home trying to work – having to do that creates a lot of stress. For example, during quarantine, many people in Wuhan found ways to communicate creatively with other people and use their time. The number of divorces in China has increased. Every family reacts differently, but they all have to deal with a whole range of other stress factors such as fear, worry and anxiety. Even when people go out, they are much more hesitant because they don’t know whether they will catch the virus or bring it back to the family. So you really stay very isolated.
Is the human brain able to cope with so much stress at once?
It depends on each individual. If we acknowledge that we have to differentiate between the brain and the mind, we see that the brain as an organ may not be able to cope with all of these stressors. But the mind, the consciousness of whatever word we want to use, has the ability to regulate the way the body and brain respond to these stressors. Breathing exercises, relaxation exercises and mindfulness exercises – there are different techniques – can help to slow down the effects of these stressors on the body and the brain.
What techniques worked for your patients?
One of the simplest techniques that I use fairly regularly on most of the people I work with and who are concerned with fear is a simple abdominal breathing technique. You put your hand on your stomach and try to make sure that it moves while you breathe, so that you breathe deeply into your diaphragm. Deepening breathing helps bring consciousness into the body and into the moment because we need to focus on the breath. And by doing that, it also helps to slow down the quick automatic physiological response to stress.
What other techniques help?
Another method that people can use if they are concerned about something in the future or the impact of the crisis on their families and they cannot fall asleep, cannot eat well, then they can ground themselves. There are different grounding exercises. One is to bring the mind and consciousness into the sensations of the body: sitting in a chair, feeling the chair on the floor, feeling the feet on the floor, feeling the effects on the body by placing the mind in the present Moment brings. Another technique is that a person looks around the room and perceives the details of the room and mentally and even verbally describes them. For example, in front of me is a computer, on the top of the computer there is a clip, a cloth, underneath the table, next to it a computer mouse, and it is white. When I do that, it brings awareness to the present moment and stops this brooding and fear.
So these techniques give the mind and brain a break from worrying about the future?
Yes, because most of us like to imagine the future because we like to give ourselves a certain feeling of security. But in situations like this where there is a lot of fear, the mind just goes farther into what-if and fear and the brain responds to those thoughts. So calming the mind and bringing it into the moment and then starting to make other decisions are very good ways to slow down the processes in the brain.
Some experts advise developing new routines at a time when everything is being turned upside down.
That can help. People are at home, maybe they don’t have the space, they live in small apartments, they don’t have a garden, they can’t get out. So you don’t have the opportunity to be separated from each other. It is helpful to have a routine to be able to communicate with each other, to say: Hey, I need myself for half an hour, I can be alone in the room and have some space. It is also important to communicate realistically with the children to help them understand what is going on and to alleviate their fears, rather than saying, “Don’t worry, everything will be fine”. It is important to provide them with sufficient information and information. And of course one of the big challenges is to create a routine. Part of this routine is to make sure that you have enough time for yourself and enough opportunities to protect others from your own emotions.
Do you think that people can deal better with uncertainty after this crisis?
It really depends on what the person is doing. Very little research has been done in the past on the effects of quarantine on mental health. For some people, the problems increase because they have had problems before, and that’s just one too many. On the other hand, if a person is able to be proactive and considerate and is able to recognize the limitations and make other decisions, to establish a routine, to ensure that they get enough sleep, then these people can do a lot become more resilient and adapt better to the uncertainties that arise.
Isn’t that a skill we all have to work on as the world is likely to experience more uncertainty in the future?
Yes, the likelihood of something like this repeating is probably very high. Now that people in quarantine have more time, they should try to develop these skills instead of spending time on digital devices or other forms of distraction.
Several mental health hotlines have been set up across China, where people can talk to others about their problems on the phone. The hotlines seem to be used in very different ways. Why do you think that’s the case?
Perhaps some people think culturally that they have no psychological problem and therefore do not call a hotline. There is a social stigma.
When is it time to seek help?
If people realize that they don’t sleep well for a long time, feel anxious, their diet may also be affected. Many people eat more or stop eating when stressed. Some notice that they are more easily irritable, and this temperament begins to affect other people in the family. Other types of manifestations are rashes, any type of physical stress indicator. If you find yourself experiencing some of these symptoms, you should say, “Okay, I’m not getting on well, let me at least talk to someone about it to find out what I’m feeling.”
In China, things are gradually returning to normal. How do people adapt?
It is difficult for some of the people here in China to go out again. They notice that it is very loud and that it takes a long time to go to different places due to temperature controls and other measures. These are areas that they are currently adapting to and that they find really problematic.
There are no official numbers about suicides in China. But do you think we’ll see an increase in suicides?
Indeed, that could be the case. Other forms of self-harm could also increase, such as substance abuse. It depends very much on how psychiatric institutions and the government are able to remedy the situation. The economic impact will be severe for a number of people. The tensions and strains in relationships are quite dramatic. A number of people I have spoken to have had plans, and these plans are now upside down and suspended.
Mr. Cope, thank you for the interview.
More: The philosopher Julian Nida-Rümelin calls for the shutdown in Germany to end as quickly as possible. He advocates the use of tracking apps. He also advocates corona bonds.