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Mental health and Covid: At GMCH, 10% Covid patients show psychological symptoms, says doctor

The psychiatry departments of both PGI and GMCH-32, which are running teleconsultation services for both patients and health workers, are flooded with people pouring out their accounts of loss, depression, confusion, loneliness, inability to cope with the circumstances and what lies ahead.

Written by Parul | Chandigarh |
June 11, 2021 9:48:47 am
Chandigarh, Covid patientsHealthcare staff dance with Covid patients at mini-Covid care centre at Sri Aurobindo school in Chandigarh. Health experts say the pandemic is going to leave scars on people. Express Photo: Kamleshwar Singh

For 34-year-old Vibha Patil, a single mother of a three-year-old daughter, life will never be the same. Patil, a public relations professional, tested positive for Covid-19 in the first week of May, and was home isolated, till one day, she could not breathe. Her oxygen level had started dipping.

“I lost my husband to a heart attack two years back, and I am all that my little one has. I looked at her and thought, what would happen to her if I succumb to the disease. My family is in the US. It was then that a friend took over the situation, finding an ICU bed, and rushing me to the hospital, while also simultaneously taking care of my daughter and home. I was in the ICU, on oxygen support for more than a week, with my baby not knowing why her mother wasn’t home. I am still enveloped by fear, long after my recovery, anxious, over-protective about my child and wondering if this fatigue, feeling of helplessness, and insecurity…will ever go away. Covid-19 has taken away my confidence and the better part of me. The only time I feel close to my former self is after my therapy sessions these days,” reflects Patil, who has quit her job, as she says she can’t cope with pressure of any kind anymore.

Covid-19 has taken an unprecedented toll on our lives. The losses cannot be quantified, and each person’s story of encountering the disease is a painful one. The psychiatry departments of both PGI and GMCH-32, which are running teleconsultation services for both patients and health workers, are flooded with people pouring out their accounts of loss, depression, confusion, loneliness, inability to cope with the circumstances and what lies ahead.

Dr Preeti Arun, head of the department of psychiatry at GMCH-32, says that doctors and residents of the department have come together and decided to address the psychological and psychiatric issues related to Covid-19 for both patients admitted in Covid wards and those outside the hospital. “For more than a year now, our residents have been going to the Covid wards and meeting patients to address their anxieties and fears. At least 10 per cent of the patients, we found, had diagnosable issues and showed symptoms of psychological problems. We also found that loneliness was one the major issues that the patients grappled with in Covid wards,” reflected Dr Arun.

A number of patients, who were earlier seeking treatment for anxiety, depression and had made progress, have now again returned for therapy, after either being infected with Covid, or seeing a loved one succumb to the virus. “The anxiety has recurred, and in many cases, the grief of losing a family member has made the condition more tougher. While some are going through psychotherapy, others have to be put on medication. We reach out to them through video calls. Many patients appreciate the fact that we are keeping tabs on them in the wards, making general conversations when they have no one to talk to and express their fears. Once they leave the hospital, and still need support, they are offered teleconsultation services,” Dr Arun said.

From May 23 to june 6, as many as 281 patients have been admitted to the Covid wards and have been screened by psychiatry residents for psychological issues. Out of these, 105 were found to have psychological issues, which works out to a whopping 37 per cent. Lack of human contact, social connections, company, says Dr Arun, has taken a toll on both the young and the elderly, and the impact on the mental health of people was serious. The department also has psychologists who talk to patients in the Oncology department thrice a week, and there is also a psychologist to support mothers whose children are in the neonatal ICU. A separate counselling tele helpline number has been set up for the hospital staff. “Covid-19 had introduced new challenges and for many, the anxiety is now about the third wave, the prospect of which seems more real to many than ever before. We have to stay positive and look at ways to understand how to best manage this situation,” says Dr Arun.

Likewise, for the last two months, Professor Sandeep Grover, from the department of psychiatry at PGI, has been addressing about two new patients everyday who are finding it tough to cope with the loss of a loved one, and have been overcome with grief. “Sleep disturbance, anxiety, depression, lack of energy are some of the symptoms, with people of all age groups seeking therapy. Some are unable to come to terms with the loss of their child, and some, the death of a parent to Covid-19. We listen to them, make them feel that we understand, empathise and are with them. These sessions are through video calls, so that they can see us. I believe that it requires a lot of courage to deal with a death and then seek help to cope with it,” says Dr. Grover.

Residents at PGI have also offered support to patients admitted to Covid wards, and according to Dr Grover, many are not reaching out to them, because of lack of smartphones and online facilities.

Dr Grover, who has also done an extensive study on the effects of lockdown on mental health, says that this distress, and feeling of hopelessness is just the tip of the iceberg and the pandemic is going to leave its scars. “Cases of dementia may go up in the elderly, as may forgetfulness. Those who have been in the ICU are facing depression and anxiety. We are seeing phone abuse and temper tantrums in children. We are looking to study and do projects to find out the real long-term impacts of this pandemic,” sums up Dr Gover.

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