As Rwanda continues efforts to fight the global coronavirus pandemic, the Mental Health Division Manager of Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC); Dr Yvonne Kayiteshonga has suggested ways the community can normalise their ways of life and continue to protect their mental health. Kayiteshonga was speaking to The New Times in a telephone interview on Wednesday March 18 after Rwanda confirmed the eighth case of coronavirus. She said that while fear and stigma (mainly for the infected) are common during a period such as this, there are many ways that individuals and society can help those around them not to be sucked into negativity. Here are the tips. 1. Protect the affected While stigma may be self-inflicted or inflicted by others, Kayiteshonga reminded Rwandans that there is no need to mistreat people who have contracted the virus or their families. Since the virus is being contracted by different kinds of people globally and does not target one based their country of origin or race, Kayiteshonga advised the masses to separate the virus from the individual. “Patients should not be referred to as the virus. Do not refer to them as COVID-19 cases, COVID-19 families or COVID-diseased. They are people who have, are being treated or are recovering from COVID-19. They deserve our support, compassion and kindness,” she said. She reminded that after recovery, the patients’ lives will go on as usual. 2. Avoid unhealthy coping methods While an outbreak may cause stress, confusion, anger or be scary for some, even when they are not patients or members of the patient’s family, it is important for the society to use healthy coping mechanisms. “We advise people to avoid unhealthy coping methods like smoking, excessive drinking or others. If you feel overwhelmed, you can call a health worker or your religious leader to help you navigate the challenges,” she said. She said that avoiding big crowds should not cut communication between friends and loved ones. “Let us use our phones and emails to discuss with our loved ones about our feelings. You can maintain a healthy lifestyle, eat well, exercise and try to sleep well to avoid physical contact,” she said. 3. Avoid rumours Like any other epidemic, rumors and myths related to the Coronavirus continue to circulate, an issue that has the potential to cause panic or poor decision-making within the community, particularly those in isolation. Kayiteshonga reminded the masses to follow the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation guidelines which are currently the only trusted channels of communication. She also pointed out the value of keeping busy. “If you are at home, as most people are these days, don’t spend all your time in front of the television. Normalise your life. Watch news at least twice a day but spend your time doing other things,” she said. 4. The power of prayer Kayiteshonga said that although government issued a directive suspending activities in schools, places of worship, and large gatherings to further protect its citizens, there is no reason why individuals cannot keep praying in the confines of their homes. “We are not separating you from God. What we are discouraging you from doing is being in a crowded place where you can potentially get infected. There is no reason why you shouldn’t continue having a personal relationship with God,” she said. She advised believers to continue reading their Holy books and praying from their houses as one of the coping mechanisms. 5. Attend to children and teenagers Due to the nature of the stage that they are at in their life, teenagers are already facing many challenges. Kayiteshonga advises that parents make time and are available for the youngsters so that they can respond to questions or simply listen. “During this time when there is a lot of stress, teenagers need extra care and attention. They need to feel like their feelings are validated. Use this time to interact openly,” she said. She reminded parents that the suspension of school activities should not mean stopping to learn. “Children are not going to school, but they can continue learning. Teach them the right way to wash hands, keeping distance. Teach them something new. Let them utilise this time to continue learning,” she said. 6. Protect the elderly Do you love your elderly parent or your grandparents? Then according to the World Health Organisation, avoiding physical contact with them is the best way that you can protect them since they are at a very high risk of contracting the virus with potentially fatal results. However, Kayiteshonga advises society to use other means to keep close contact with the elderly and to ensure that they are not lonely. “This virus can attack anyone but the elderly are more at risk. Let us keep in touch with them on phone to ensure that they are not lonely and that those who are for instance on medication are taking it,” she said. 7. Deal with health worker burnout Kayiteshonga advises health workers who are at the forefront of the outbreak to stick together to avoid what is commonly known as professional burnout. “Try to exercise, take care of your body, talk to your colleagues and sleep enough. We request managers to keep track of their staff and to provide them with all the support that they need,” she said.