‘Folks are not aware’: Savannah historian opens up about COVID-19’s impact on his mental health

Coronavirus

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Following a recent battle with COVID-19, local historian Dr. Jamal Touré hopes to shed light on the not-as-often-discussed mental health impacts.

Touré, who spent around 18 days in isolation while trying to recover, says he didn’t experience many of the usual physical symptoms associated with COVID-19 infections.

“I didn’t lose my taste, I didn’t lose my smell, I did not have too-severe headaches, didn’t have bronchial or lung issues,” he told WSAV NOW

Instead, Touré says he experienced what have been referred to as alternative symptoms.

“There were other things that came into play that people generally don’t talk about with regard to delusions, severe appetite loss, night sweats, hot flashes, even the scalp being sensitive,” he said. “All the things that we talk about that are tied to COVID-19, but most people generally don’t put it out there, so folks are not aware.”

He says by sharing what he went through, perhaps others will come forward to talk about the uncommon ways the virus has affected them, especially in terms of mental health.

“I even had delusional dreams, and even when I had food delivered to my house, a part of me psychologically was saying, ‘get rid of that food, you don’t need the food,’” Touré said.

“When they talk about the gastrointestinal [issues] and the suppression of the appetite, they’re just making it seem like it’s something physical, but it is actually now combined with the physical and also psychological, the mental,” he said.

He shares that he also struggled with the isolation aspect of the virus, which he says could lead to depression in others coping with COVID-19.

“It especially [affects] a person who’s in the house by themselves when no one else is coming around, or they don’t have a family member there in the residence with them,” Touré said.

The historian says when people reached out to him during his time in quarantine, he didn’t feel like communicating. “I began to realize that I was spiraling out of control, and that made me think about the others who are also experiencing this,” he said. 

In December, it was reported that a small number of COVID-19 patients from around the world had experienced some psychotic symptoms like confusion and odd behavior.

Mary Jo Horton, Memorial Health’s manager of therapy for behavioral health, says the unfamiliarity of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 symptoms can make someone feel like they’re having a mental health crisis if they’re experiencing issues no one else has talked about.

“What this has taught us from a mental health perspective is, for people who are not sick, are we teaching people how to be attuned with our emotions? Are we asking ourselves how we’re feeling each day? Are we aware of what to do with our feelings? Do we know how to manage our anxiety and our depressive symptoms?” Horton told WSAV NOW.

“Taking the time to learn how to experience, express and process our emotions when we’re healthy will almost provide us those protective factors in case we do get COVID-19 because then we know how to handle ourselves,” she said.

“I think too often, it’s not an area that is naturally taught or not considered a strength to know how to deal with our mental health, so really practicing ways of processing emotions now will really help us when we’re in those times when we’re [facing] unknown medical conditions,” she added.

The behavioral health expert says taking concrete steps to care for physical health can have a positive effect on mental health.

“It starts with the simple things; are we sleeping, are we drinking water, are we taking our medicine, are we nourishing our body?” Horton said.

Seemingly small tasks like reading and doing some exercise while in quarantine can help, she says.

“Our mind and body are tied together so closely because we’re one complete person, and the more that we can do for our physical health, it’s really going to impact our mental health,” Horton said.

Something that helped Touré cope, he shares, is working to understand what was causing his alternative symptoms. 

“[I was] curious as to why this was happening; why am I sweating? Why am I having this insomnia? What’s going on with that?” he said.

By doing some research, the answers began coming to him, he said. 

“That helped with regard to me not knowing that these are symptoms that they don’t talk about,” Touré said, adding, “but I need to handle these symptoms.”

For people that have gone through similar experiences during a COVID-19 infection, Touré says it’ll be “a fight,” but it’s worth it to reach out to someone for help if needed.

“Even if it’s not a coworker or friend, go online, make a phone call to get in [touch with] those mental health providers that can try to help walk you through some of this,” he said.

“It becomes essential that you reach out because that will become a part of that lingering impact,” he added. “It’s about the fight to be whole again, as best as you possibly can.”

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