It is of no doubt that the current pandemic has changed the course of the planet and life as we know it has been turned upside down. People have been forced to make drastic changes to their lifestyle as well as deal with the chance of contracting a fastly contagious disease that may be fatal. This is a time of huge stress for many as they struggle to cope with a crisis of this magnitude and the sudden changes around them.
So it comes as no surprise that the mental health of many are currently being affected in different ways. This includes constantly worrying about your health and that of your family and loved ones, worsening of already existing health conditions- mental or physical, depression, anxiety, loneliness, panic attacks, suicidal tendencies, increased use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, etc.
It is said that this could be considered as one of the largest psychological experiments where human beings all over the world are being forced to either quarantine, socially distance or isolate themselves. It is expected that there is going to be a surge of mental health problems by the time all this passes over and mental health care workers would need to prepare themselves to help rehabilitate the population once this is over.
A study was done regarding the patients, family and health care workers during the previous epidemics like SARS, MERS and Ebola, revealing disturbing facts like how the victims and their families were avoided by the general public and isolated, thereby causing distress, and how the recovered patients tend to develop post-traumatic disorders. It is noted that the current pandemic would also elicit similar responses and many neuropsychological tests are currently being done to assess the psychological distress in survivors, as well as other groups who are under stress at this time, like hospital care workers. So it is important that the patients who have survived the disease undergo psychological assessments, as well as be provided with psychological support to make sure that they are coping well.
Doctors and other healthcare workers, especially the nurses and other hospital staff, undergo a lot of stress and burnout during situations like this with no time to recover from the same, a fact that is being largely overlooked right now as the pandemic has collectively affected the population with no one having a clear idea on how to effectively tackle these newfound problems. Dialogues need to be initiated for the same and solutions need to be brought forth regarding the healthcare system, as this pandemic has shown how much discrepancy lies in the current system with what we thought was a model system. The mental health of our top frontline warriors is of utmost importance at a time like this and a dire need to upgrade the healthcare system is also being highlighted during this time.
Other groups being affected right now are the breadwinners of the family who have left their jobs now to stay at home, worrying about how to continue feeding the family and also about the future as the economic crisis aggravates. Even though many have continued working from home, trying to keep things intact and handling the crisis well, many others like business owners and also manual workers who work for daily wages are seen to have taken the brunt of this catastrophe. The stress and anxiety affect not just them, but the family on the whole who depend upon them. The financial crisis is seen to have affected many bringing about depression and an onslaught of severe anxiety as people struggle to keep afloat.
Another disturbing fact coming to the surface now is the amount of domestic abuse going on, as victims are stuck at home with their perpetrators. This is seen to be a common theme across the world as helplines are going off the hook with disturbing calls from victims. In India ‘Childline India’ helpline alone had more than 92000 calls for protection from abuse and violence in the past week. At the same time another organisation, that deals with domestic abuse survivors, says that the calls have drastically dropped as women are stuck at home with the abusers, unable to make the calls. This brings up a need to actively tackle these problems and the after-effects of such scenarios in the coming days.
Having worked in an NGO that deals with psychiatric patients in rural areas and having done fieldwork by going to patients’ homes who can’t afford treatment or are bedridden, I can only imagine the effects this lockdown is having on patients that are already suffering from mental health conditions. Stress is the biggest factor that triggers many of these conditions, with the current atmosphere of fear and uncertainty making it worse. Patients are seen to struggle with coping with the current situation in a healthy manner as social media or the news constantly strews about negativity causing stress and anxiety, as well as the change in daily routines and being stuck at home with no option to go for work or have a personal space etc making things harder for them. Doctors and psychologists are trying their best to keep in touch with their patients as well as providing online platforms to provide consultation and therapy.
It is very clear that this pandemic will require not just physical rehabilitation of patients but mental rehabilitation for a majority of the population, as they survive this stressful time and hopefully mental healthcare workers are preparing to be at the frontline fighting the unseen pandemic of mental illness in the future.