COVID-19 has made a dramatic impact on the way we live, work, and play. IT LOOKS LIKE SOME CHANGES WILL REMAIN HERE EVEN POST COVID-19. As the entire planet came to a virtual halt, we saw a spike in mortalities and mental health issues. Its impact on India was no less striking. The nationwide lockdown and the rising casualties created a BIO-PSYCHO-SOCIO (health) crisis, which included its impact on our mental health. There is now enough anecdotal and observational research to show that there has been a significant spike in mental health issues in India and worldwide. In India where people are usually shy about discussing such issues, there is a lack of awareness which further compounds the problem. But as the rise of incidents of mental health issues shows an increasing occurrence under the current crisis, we must ask ourselves, is the mental health crisis the next challenge before us?
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1. Why is this pandemic different from other pathogens?
The evidence seems to suggest so. Research by the All India Medical Sciences, Bhubaneswar on ‘Mental health implications of COVID-19 pandemic and its response in India’ studied global publications for COVID-19 related mental health coverage with special emphasis on India. The study found that the pandemic has led to major mental health issues, such as fear, stress, insomnia, denial, anxiety, depression, and anger. In some cases, it has also led to suicides or suicidal tendencies.
Among those vulnerable are frontline workers, children, older people, and people with pre-existing mental illnesses. But the COVID-19 is far from being the first pandemic to strike the world. Plagues, cholera, and influenza outbreaks ravaged entire populations in the earlier centuries. In more recent times we have seen outbreaks of pathogens like Zika, Swine Flu, Ebola, and MERS. So, why is this pandemic different?
2. This covid-19 has separated us from humanity life
The first obvious answer is its global scale. Never before has a pandemic brought the entire planet to a halt. Hence, for the first time, we are facing problems on a global scale. The other characteristic of the pandemic is the global lockdown. It forced people to stay indoors for months with minimal contact with others, isolating them. This was triggering for many people with existing mental health issues.
It affected their access to professional help. At the same time, many of them could not access their support groups, such as friends or family. The paranoia, fear, and anxiety caused by the pandemic brought underlying mental health issues to the fore.
The isolation was particularly hard for children and the elderly who were deprived of their regular outings. For children and teenagers, the lockdown meant that they could not go out to play, exercise, or socialise with their friends. The overexposure of screen time with online classes has also taken its toll with many parents now concerned about the time children are spending on their gadgets. For adults, this isolation was further complicated by fear and anxiety over job loss and pay cuts.
3. It was difficult to do all the work when Covid-19 came
It was particularly difficult for the elderly who must have a minimal exercise routine, such as walking, to maintain their health and wellbeing. The isolation caused by the pandemic not only stopped these social outings, it also often meant that they were unable to visit or meet their families, FINDING IT DIFFICULT TO DO THE HOUSEHOLD CHORES WHICH INCREASES THE FEELING OF HELPLESSNESS AND ISOLATION.
The lockdown left them without any house help, which increased their day-to-day exertion. Since they are seen as particularly vulnerable to the virus, FEAR FOR FAMILY MEMBER WHO GOES OUT it often led to fear and anxiety, AND ACCEPTING THE DEATH OF KNOWN PEOPLE. All these factors, when taken together, have created serious mental health issues for the elderly.
4. Impact of COVID-19 on people’s livelihoods
Another vulnerable group during the pandemic was healthcare workers. They were often working under highly vulnerable conditions with high exposure to the virus. Many of them also lost their lives. Working under such conditions was stressful for many such careers. It gave rise to anxiety and fear. The necessity of wearing protective gear could be uncomfortable, which aggravated an already stressful situation. This wasn’t helped by the challenging task of caring for high-risk patients, lack of resources, long working hours, fear of transmitting the virus to family members, and a sense of futility while caring for severe cases. NO OF DEATHS INCREASES AND THE CHANGING PROTOCOLS OF TREATMENT WERE ADDING PRESSURE.
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5. How COVID-19 is changing the world
With the scale of mental health issues we are facing, we need some proactive measures to counter these. We must start by acknowledging the crisis at our hands, removing any stigma from it. For many people, adopting a constructive and calm approach may work. Focusing on tasks, while ignoring triggers like social media can help them calm their anxiety. One must make an active effort to reach out to others through channels like video calls. As a society, we can BE AN ACTIVE SUPPORT SYSTEM FOR OTHERS (proactively) to help others, especially elderly people or those with mental health issues. Reach out to them and initiate conversations while keeping a safe distance. ANOTHER GROUP THAT NEEDS SPECIAL ATTENTION IS CHILDREN. Children may need more care and understanding as their normal routine is disrupted.
6. We All should follow the Rule Of the government
Healthcare workers should get regular counseling and access to essential resources. We also need easier access to professional care through means such as teleconference or remote counseling.
Our mental health is one of the overlooked costs of the COVID-19 pandemic. The authorities have taken some steps to address this issue with the Government of India (GOI) working with institutes like the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS). Strategies like telepsychiatry consultations and toll-free aid for behavioral and psychological problems have also been employed by the GOI. Healthcare professionals and the general public must also pitch in. We must be more aware of its occurrence and more willing to help others in our own way.