A growing number of people are turning to alcohol to cope with isolation, according to mental health workers.

The chairman of the government’s Mental Health Services, Anton Grech, said the trend was causing deep concern among the profession.

While there are also worries about people exhibiting other maladaptive behaviours, such as drug abuse and overeating, the most alarming has been alcoholism, Grech said.

“We are seeing people, normally able to regulate their alcohol intake, losing control, and it’s very worrying.

“While alcohol can seem helpful to them in the short term, it can cause big problems in the long term. People should be careful not to resort to it to cope,” Grech warned. He advised anyone experiencing the problem to contact their family doctor who would help them seek further support.

Another way to seek help would be through a helpline being set up by the department of health and the Richmond Foundation.

A World Health Organisation official warned last week that alcohol is an “unhelpful coping strategy”. Aiysha Malik, from WHO’s department of mental health and substance abuse, said turning to substances would not help manage stress but can make things worse.

We are seeing people, normally able to regulate their alcohol intake, losing control, and it’s very worrying

People are social beings, Grech explained. He had observed levels of anxiety deepen as people started to have less contact with family, friends and their wider circles.

Confinement indoors, while a necessary evil to contain the virus, also prevented people from relieving their anxiety by taking a walk in the fresh air, he added.

“When someone is in a state of worry and anxiety, like everyone is now, one of the best ways to overcome this is through distraction.

“Walking in nature doesn’t just provide exercise but the scenery distracts you with sensory stimuli.” Asked whether the authorities should encourage people segregated at home to go for a daily walk, as is permitted in some other countries otherwise enforcing lockdown, he said this could easily open the door to people meeting up with each other and this would ultimately do more harm than good.

He said it was important for people to remember that these circumstances are temporary. While they are separated physically from others, they should keep in touch with them regularly, preferably through video chats.

Apart from maintaining a regular exercise routine, he also recommended that people limit their time on social media and only take their news from reputable sources. For the rest of the day, they should stay busy with activities that could provide different stimuli.

“In normal circumstances, looking for distractions all the time is not a good way of coping. But in these unique circumstances, I’m telling people to have as many distractions as possible to keep themselves from ruminating and getting into a vicious cycle of getting themselves anxious.”

Finally, people who are on medication for some condition or other should not stop their treatment at this crucial time unless they were instructed by their doctors, he advised.

Call helpline 179 for assistance or Sedqa on 2388 5110.

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