Mattering is a vital support for people during COVID-19 pandemic

A youth sits bereft against a stone wall

For billions of people around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented event, with an unknown risk to health and well-being not only for individuals but also for their family members, friends, colleagues and co-workers.

Gordon Flett
Gordon Flett

In a new commentary, published in The Journal of Concurrent Disorders, York University psychology Professor Gordon Flett provides new insight on why the feeling of mattering is an important source of support for people during this pandemic. Knowing that someone cares during times of crises has far-reaching benefits for mental health.

“People need people all of the time but especially in times of crisis and uncertainty,” says Flett. “People can be such a source of comfort to other people by letting them know they care and they are valued. I felt compelled to focus on this topic because of the countless people who are struggling so much right now with worry and feelings of loneliness.

“Supportive interactions and contacts can make a world of difference and can determine whether someone is able to adapt and survive. However, in this instance, as virtually everyone knows by now, we are all being told at present to keep our physical distance from other people in order to limit the spread of the virus.”

Flett says while this practice is warranted, it can be incredibly difficult for people who need to access the emotional support. People who were already anxious and stressed prior to the crisis are particularly in need of reassurance from other people, but it’s impossible during isolation.

In the commentary, co-authored by Masood Zangeneh, professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Innovative Learning, Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning, Flett looks at the SARS outbreak and provides insights about the relevance of feelings of mattering versus not mattering in crisis situations.

“People who are unable to shake or overcome this feeling of not mattering are prone to respond with a variety of maladaptive or perhaps even destructive responses.”

Gordon Flett is director of the LaMarsh Centre for Child and Youth Research at York University where he specializes in the role of personality factors in depression, health problems and interpersonal adjustment. His research adopts a lifespan perspective, studying the role of personality in health and mental health in children, adolescents, middle-aged individuals and the elderly.

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