Updated: July 6, 2020 6:28:07 pm
‘This too shall pass…’ these four words have given strength to many in these challenging times. The pandemic has had massive repercussions on our body, mind and soul, as we battle with insomnia, deal with over-active minds, process distressing information from hospital corridors and feel the pain of those who have lost their lives the world over because of COVID-19. Nothing can come close to a feeling of helplessness that many are experiencing, as we are enslaved by the left and right of our minds. Sushant Singh Rajput’s death was received with shock and despair as it unveiled many lesser known truths of the world. And then the mental health helpline numbers started making sense to all of us, who were now exhausted with the lockdown cooking and the unlocked stages of the pandemic.
Dr. Arzoo Gupta, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Government Medical College, Sector 32 agrees that there was anticipatory anxiety as many people had started hoarding grocery and other essentials. There was fear, but rationalised, with an explanation of safety. Gradually, the media started highlighting the gravity of the situation globally, but it was only a tip of the iceberg, the worst was yet to unfold. The initial lockdown was welcomed as a safety measure and life came to a virtual standstill for most. “Extension of lockdown took a toll on those grappling with tough circumstances like migrants, people working away from homes, separated from families and a large section threatened with loss of jobs and businesses. The media listed tips for psychological care and mental health professionals extended support to heal psychological issues. But the irony is it faded soon. Like a sea wave, it came with a great force and after reaching a peak, the attention to mental health also got washed away. There was a lot said about mental health, but when the real tough phase began, there wasn’t adequate support,” reflects Dr. Gupta.
The initial euphoria of panic buying, binge watching TV shows and sharing photographs and feel-good messages slowly died, as many grappled with the dark reality enveloping them. “Sometimes the feeling can’t be expressed in words. There’s a lull around. One can slowly see businesses closing, friends losing jobs, rising numbers of infections, a war like situation with neighbouring countries. There seems to be a constant lump in the throat, which sometimes I fear as sore throat or a disease that I am unaware of. Talking to people helps, but then one is fearful of being judged,” adds Sunaina, a homemaker.
Mental and physical isolation due to COVID-19 has led to anxiety, fear, depression and for many; these feelings are a window to what it takes to be living with mental health challenges, which will perhaps be made worse by the pandemic. Dr Ruby Ahuja, an eminent psychologist says she has many young people approaching her for help to come to terms with their emotions and the mental challenges they have come face-to-face with in these times. “Since people are homebound, monotony, disappointment and irritability have increased. Also, feelingsof loneliness can greatly affect a person’s physical and emotional well-being.”
The impact of this fear may not be felt equally in all groups: Women report being more concerned than men (64 per cent to 55 per cent). The general population can experience not only fear and anxiety of being sick or dying, but helplessness also. They blame the people who are already affected and this has precipitated mental breakdowns, a wide range of psychiatric issues and even suicide. Suspected and/or confirmed COVID-19 individuals largely experience fear regarding the high contagiousness and fatality. Those in quarantine face boredom, loneliness, anger, depression, anxiety, denial, despair, insomnia, harmful substance use and self-harm. Moreover, physical symptoms of COVID-19 may cause more anxiety and mental distress. And what makes matters worse is the absence of being able to be comforted physically. Dr. Arzoo adds, “There are different experiences of lockdown in different phases. Initial lockdown was a well-deserved break from a fast-pace life. But gradually, there were apprehensions about never returning to a ‘normal’ life. An empty mind is a devil’s workshop and this is what happened to many who got unemployed or isolated during this lockdown. Usually it’s illness that leads to dysfunction, but this time it was dysfunction in lives, personal, professional that gave birth to many mental health issues. Social distancing and a lack of human touch, scientifically proven to reduce oxytocin release, significantly contributes to stress in body. Usually while dealing with patients most of the psychological interventions aim to enhance functioning, because it gradually alleviates the symptoms. I recall many of my patients deteriorated because the activities that were introduced to improve their lives, had to be discontinued due to the lockdown,” shares the doctor.
The impact of COVID 19 has a palate of shades. It is time to now hold hands of those who are injured financially, emotionally or socially. The impact of this pandemic and the lockdown will persist for decades, just like it usually does after any disaster. It is time that we reach out to ourselves and others. Make that call, write that note and don’t just rely on social media to communicate a generic worldly message. Dr. Ahuja shares some signs that we can be aware of and when we must reach for help.
Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones, your financial situation or job, or loss of support services you rely on.
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns.
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
- Worsening of chronic health problems.
- Worsening of mental health conditions.
- Increased use of tobacco, and/or alcohol and other substance use
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’s consistent plea in this pandemic has been has been for responses based on empathy. “Compassion is a medicine,” he said in March. It is and probably the only one which doesn’t need human trials.
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