The Coronavirus outbreak has turned out to be a pandemic and no part of the world is safer at present. Probably no one would have expected such a pandemic in the modern era. Even though we are very advanced in terms of medical science and technology, we are at present battling a situation which has surprised many scientists and epidemiologists globally. While the new virus has already claimed several thousands of lives globally, in India alone, Covid-19 has infected around 10,363 people as of now and the death toll has risen to 339. As the danger clock is constantly ticking in the country, Coronavirus scare is no more restricted to just physical health. Nation-wide lockdown in the country, advisory on social distancing and home quarantine have come with psychological fallout as well. In a recent survey conducted by the Indian Psychiatry Society, there has been a sudden rise in the number of people suffering from mental illnesses.
How the pandemic overwhelms our mental health
The pandemic has significantly affected our lifestyle, career and economy over the last few weeks, there has been a significant spike in the number of patients suffering from mental health issues across the world. In India too, people from various age groups are reporting excessive stress, anxiety, panic and depression.
The reasons are many, the fear of losing their businesses, jobs, earnings, savings and basic resources like grocery, vegetables, milk, oil and medicines. In addition to this, there is the constant fear of transmission giving rise to mass hysteria, xenophobia and fuelling of stigma and marginalisation. There is considerable increase in withdrawal symptoms due to unavailability of alcohol, tobacco and other substances.
Ways by which it affects mental health
It is essential to be aware of the various ways by which the pandemic impacts the mental health of people.
· Fear of losing livelihood due to isolation, social distancing, home quarantine and restriction on travel.
· A constant sense of insecurity of losing one’s loved ones to the infection.
· Anxiety due to lack of contact with family members and friends living far away. For some, anxiety and stress may increase due to lack of one’s privacy at home with all family members getting huddled at home.
· The fear of stepping out of the home.
· Stress due to the compulsive need to stock up food, essentials and medical supplies.
· Extreme psychological stress and panic based on the news making rounds on social media, a majority of which are fake
Especially elderly people have become more anxious and fearful, as most of the information suggests their vulnerability for fatal infection.
Fatigue, burnout, frustration and the fear of contracting or guilt of transmitting infection among the health workers, paramedics, volunteers, virologists and media persons at the front line of the Covid-19 control and coverage.
Signs that one must watch out
There are ways by which one can identify mental health issues. Here are some of them.
· Anxiety, panic episodes
· Checking and rechecking of the facts
· Insomnia and nightmares
· Overthinking and revisiting past repeatedly
· Fear and nervousness, insecure feelings about future
· Hunger pangs and binge eating
· Jitteriness and loss of focus and concentration
· Inability to relax, lack of interest in activities
· Worsening of medical conditions like hypertension and blood sugars
Who are the worst affected?
It has been observed that the senior citizens and their caregivers are worst affected with mental concerns amid the pandemic related lockdown. While the senior citizens living alone are having anxiety and panic attacks out of fear and complete isolation at present, their caregivers are traumatised for not being able to provide a visit and care for them physically. Apart from panic attacks and anxiety, the senior citizens are suffering from intense stress due to a deviation from their daily routine and slipping into depression over loneliness.
Manish M, 65, who is living alone with his spouse, started having anxiety, nervousness, constant worries and felt insecure about the future since the time of lockdown. With children settled abroad and the responsibility of a small enterprise and a few workers on his shoulders, Manish was unable to sleep and was constantly watching news reports and social media updates about Covid-19. After being aware that senior citizens are more prone to contract the fatal virus, he started having illness related worries and fear of death and that of incurring business loss when he came to consult the psychiatrist.
Not just older adults, even youngsters are falling prey to mental disturbances out of the Coronavirus scare. A 26-year-old woman complained about anxiety, throat pain, sleep disturbances and constant worry of acquiring Coronavirus. She was obsessed about hand washing and hygiene and had repeatedly consulted multiple physicians for her throat pain. Despite being reassured of not contracting the virus, she kept on declaring that the world will come to an end and that the virus will kill everyone. After lockdown her symptoms worsened gradually, as insecure feelings and uncertainty started creeping in.
How to overcome mental health issues?
· Follow daily routines
· Avoid reading or knowing too much information about covid
· Breathing exercises and Meditation
· Connect with people through technology, but not discuss about the virus
· Be aware of lot of fake news and spread of misinformation
· Pursuing new hobbies, reading, cooking, quizzes, riddles, puzzles
· Positive affirmations and feeling good about contributing to wellness of the country by staying indoors
· Spend time with children, indulge in their activities
· Stay calm and strong (lock down is temporary and things will be fine)
Life is more important than any of the comforting things we desire for. Have hope and faith about the future, and be mindful in the present.
Coronavirus outbreak has not just affected the human race physically but has also left a deep psychological burden. Only time will tell the real impact and we should be prepared to handle it. Following appropriate protocols and advice can genuinely help all battle the situation.
(Dr Naveen Jayaram, Consultant Psychiatrist – Sakra World Hospital. Views expressed are a personal opinion.)