Dania Bogle | Flourishing in the time of COVID-19
THERE IS no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives, maybe for the long term. My eight-year-old Mackenzie spent the final four months of her second year of primary education engaging in online lessons. A vibrant, talkative girl who may some day be described as ‘the life of the party’, I was left feeling slightly helpless watching her struggle to cope with the instant change from day-to-day personal interaction with her friends, to sitting in front of an eight-inch tablet engaging in mathematics and science classes for hours every day; this despite the fact that as a health and well-being researcher, I may be more equipped than some to manage stress. Other parents, I learned from participating in webinars, have had similar challenges trying to manage their children’s mental health during this stressful time.
Individual and community health
Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton, in his recent Sectoral Presentation, talked about the transformation brought about by COVID, which has left us asking, “How are we to live in communities?” and “How should we raise our children?” Minister Tufton pointed out that everyone counts in ensuring individual and community health. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “complete physical, mental and social well-being”. Social determinants such as good social and community support influence our chances of being healthy. One way to engender good well-being in ourselves and our children is to build strong social ties – even with physical (not social) distancing in effect. Rene Spitz, in a study of infants living in orphanages in post-war South America, noticed that being deprived of maternal affection resulted in what he termed ‘hospitalism’ – essentially a failure to thrive. The effect was quickly reversed once infants and loved ones were reunited. In fact, research shows that poor relationships are as harmful to health as smoking and obesity and leaves people more susceptible to colds. We should use this opportunity, then, to enable “the preservation of each family within the community”.
Physical activity is a buffer against both physical and mental illness, and with research showing that least 40 per cent of Jamaicans suffer from some form of mental illness, it is essential to recognise the significance of physical activity. Irish policymakers, for example, recommend physical activity as a means of improving well-being in children. Staying physically active would have been a challenge during the early period of the COVID-19 pandemic, for parents who still had to go to offices and would not have returned home before nightly curfews began. Mackenzie and I engaged in dance sessions to YouTube videos in the evenings or at night.
An individual may measure his or her well-being using the WHO-5 Well-Being Index through responding to five statements, ‘I have felt cheerful and in good spirits’; ‘I have felt calm and relaxed’; ‘I have felt active and vigorous’; ‘I woke up feeling fresh and rested’, and ‘my daily life has been filled with things that interest me’. Responses are measured on a six-point scale with the highest score being 25; a score below 13 indicates poor well-being. Individuals with optimal well-being are said to be flourishing, a state where people experience positive emotions, positive psychological functioning and positive social functioning most of the time, and live within an optimal range of human functioning. In this time of COVID, maintaining positive psychological and social function must be our priority.