Apr 11, 2020 | Dr. Rajkumar Singh
Amidst global panic, COVID-19 has come to occupy the deepest corners of our minds and life in general. Pandemics are far from being just medical phenomena. They disrupt personal and professional lives severely and affect people and societies on several levels. The key strategies promoted for containment of an outbreak of this nature are isolation and physical distancing – both can have significant impacts on our life and relationships.
Like any other fast spreading infection, COVID-19 comes with an exponentially increasing barrage of misinformation constantly thrown at us via social media, fuelling stress and mass hysteria.
In addition, the ‘fear of transmission’ begets stigma, marginalisation and xenophobia, kicking in the ‘fear of fellow humans’. In spite of well-formed protocols, hospitals are flooded with requests for testing and treatment while people fiercely compete for basic health amenities.
Faulty treatments claiming cure and prevention are booming, leading to adverse health consequences. Health anxiety, sleep disturbances, panic attacks, depression and loneliness are the other known mental health fallouts of living through a pandemic.
All these affect the entire ‘basis of life’ question for many. But sadly the focus of assessing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is almost entirely biased towards ‘deaths’, while mental well-being, one of the most common indicators of public health, unfortunately takes a backseat. It’s, therefore, important to take note of these different ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic have been impacting our mental health.
Possible extent of mental illness
The novel coronavirus disease that emerged at the end of 2019 began threatening the health and lives of millions of people after a few weeks. Highly contagious with the possibility of causing severe respiratory disease, it has quickly impacted governments and public health systems. These have responded by declaring a public health emergency of national and international concern, as well as by adopting extraordinary measures to prevent the contagion and limit the outbreak.
Millions of lives have been significantly altered, and a global, multi-level, and demanding stress-coping. It’scovering area is larger than life itself which include:
- The fear of reliving a pandemic if we have lived through another infectious disease pandemic/epidemic in your lifetime
- Fear of losing livelihood due to isolation or marked limitation of travel and social behaviour
- A constant sense of insecurity for oneself and loved ones
- Anxiety of social/physical distancing resulting in lack of contact with family or friends who may be living far away. For some it’s the other way round: getting huddled for the first time with a large family resulting in mixed emotions
- The phobia of going out of home
- Stigma towards people with symptoms such as cold, cough or sneezing, which might just be a simple flu
- The compulsive need to hoard food, essentials or medical supplies such as antibiotics, analgesics, anti-allergic medicines, face masks, sanitisers
- Psychological stress over the growing panic, which compounds daily, many times due to reinforced messaging in all forms of media
- In healthcare workers, paramedics, volunteers, virologists or media persons at the frontline of the COVID-19 control or coverage: fatigue, burnout, frustration or the fear of contracting or guilt of transmitting infection.
Management of mental stress
The COVID-19 disease has now achieved pandemic status. The World Health Organization has issued guidelines for managing the problem from both biomedical and psychological points of view.
While preventive and medical action is the most important at this stage, emergency psychological crisis interventions for people affected by COVID-19 are also critical. This includes direct interventions for patients, and indirect for relatives, caregivers, and health care professionals.
After the first experiences in China, clinical institutions and universities internationally have opened online platforms to provide psychological counseling services for affected people. Nevertheless, some research has underlined that the mental health of COVID-19 patients (including confirmed patients, patients with suspected infection, quarantined family members, and health care workers) has been poorly considered and handled.
Moreover, in order to develop psychological interventions for all or specific groups, important issues to address include the adverse psychological impacts and psychopathological symptoms in the general population during the pandemic.
In the context, specific aims include reducing the risk of developing distress, improving well-being, as well as promoting preventive behaviors. At large, the redressal steps aim to offer governments and policymakers evidence-based strategies to improve public and clinical intervention systems. Finally, we aim to elucidate strategies to effectively manage mental health in the COVID-19 pandemic
Suggestions to be followed
In this situation the incident of committing suicides aggravate the deteriorating scenario. Such incidents affect individuals and society on many levels, causing disruptions. While stigma and xenophobia may be seen as a social aspect of the outbreak, it may leave a long-lasting impact on the mental health at the individual level too.
The experts claim that there’s a fear or panic due to the current situation. We are all feeling uncertain about what could happen in the coming weeks, as we hope to slow the spread of this pandemic.
Feelings of anxiety and uncertainty are completely normal during times like this. But this is a confusing and stressful time for all of us and it can affect our mental health. Any rumour or speculation can fuel anxiety.
At such times, where social distancing is required, people should try and keep in touch with their friends and family via telephone, email or social media. We should also involve our family and children in various indoor fun activities. We need to minimise the negative impact it has on our children and explain the facts to them. Doctors also recommend people to create a new daily routine that prioritise looking after themselves.
Further, people who are already suffering from mental illness should continue their treatment regimens. In this period people are advised not to indulge in smoking and drinking.
The results of an event like the present pandemic may be multi-fold on the mental health of the people. Anxiety, depression, stress, lack of confidence, state of confusion to name a few. People may suffer indecisiveness tendencies even if it all gets over. They will feel fearful, sad, angry and helpless. They will be scared in using public transport, contacting other people, walking on the road, even in following their daily routine like going for work.
It is called post traumatic panic attack and may result in social isolation and clinical depression. They will not be able to believe that the virus has gone, they will think that it is still there or may come back.
People in quarantine may go through boredom, anxiety, anger, restlessness and frustration. If the disease is transmitted in their family members through them, they may feel guilty. They can also develop suicidal tendencies.
Many people might find it difficult to go to their jobs and face financial difficulties to add to their stress level. However, most vulnerable are the old age people. The fear is instilled in their minds. They are not socialising for example they are not going for a walk in the park out of fear. This can result in stress and loneliness.
Finally, we should try our level best to remain unaffected from the feeling of loneliness during this time, although in many countries people are doing activities like meditation, following hobbies, reading and so on. These things can help negate the effect of isolation.
Author is head of Department of Political Science, B.N.Mandal University, Madhepura