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How Covid-19 is changing the mental health scenario

How Covid-19 is changing the mental health scenario

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented scenario and has emerged as a crisis of unimaginable proportions in an extremely short time. This pandemic is most likely to impact the complete mankind either directly or indirectly and the ramifications will be felt heavily in the coming times.

It is already changing the mental health scenario, in spite of the world having come together as one to contain and fight its spread. Unheard and unimagined changes including social distancing, isolation, quarantine, work and study from home, repeated lockdowns, phased reliefs, people curfews are emerging as the new rules which have not only changed the entire landscape of the world, but also the psycho-social scenario.

A comprehensive analysis of this unknown situation is essential to understand the challenges that it presents, identify the vulnerable groups as also more importantly comprehend its immediate, interim and long-term impacts. This will help present solutions to enhance the overall well being of individuals and the society as a whole.

The sudden outbreak, unknown nature of the disease, its unrelentless expansion, stringent and ever-evolving socially disruptive control measures, has come at an extremely high psycho-social cost. The need of the hour is to examine and assess the damage as the first step to understand the impact it has on the mental health of both individuals and groups. It has led to a wide range of symptoms across the spectrum of psychotic disorders. These range from low mood, irritability, mood swings, fear, confusion, anger, helplessness, loss of diet, emotional exhaustion; the more severe symptoms induced include anxiety attacks, the loss of will to live and suicidal thoughts.

The constant onslaught of information with a never-ending stream of updates which also includes misinformation, rumor mongering and morbid data on deaths, has left even a healthy person in a state of stress and has further compounded the problem. There has been widespread stigmatization of individuals found positive which is bound to have an indelible impact on their psyche. The frontline workers such as doctors, healthcare workers and the providers of essential services are amongst the most adversely impacted due to social ostracization, contamination fears, inadequate protection equipment and high-stress working environment leading to burnout, severe trauma and emotional stress.

The inadequacy of health infrastructure and medical facilities, protective equipment and testing systems to monitor and counter such an epidemic is another shortcoming which impacts the mental well being of patients and care givers alike, as it escalates the feeling of stress and anxiety as also creates an overall feeling of helplessness. Discrimination against a particular religion or social strata due to increased spread within are likely to alienate them.

Uncertainty about the future with determinants as lack of surety of a cure, no clarity on timelines of return to a normal life and reestablishment of routine as hither to fore is also bound to have a major impact.

The vacuum of information, limited awareness, lack of education, over judgmental society, under confidence in elected representatives, insufficient database due to lack of precedence, inadequacy of timely response, questioning of humanitarian organizations are among the other socio-psychological impacts of Covid-19.

The population groups impacted by this pandemic range across the spectrum, from school going children, working population to the elderly and range from the high-income groups to the homeless. Children, who are most affected by change, are facing enormous disruption to their daily lives. Lack of support from parents who are unable to manage their own routines; abuse or violence in some cases as also the added pressure of performance has aggravated the already stressful environment. The working population is facing the unforeseen impact of work from home. Unknown work culture, performance anxiety, inadequate support structure, extended work timings, unclear ethics, social isolation, lack of breaks, inadequate personal space and requirement of being available at all times are adding to their work-stress.

The older adults are extremely vulnerable as they are experiencing the most frightening times of their lives, continuously being earmarked as being the most susceptible. This group, which is as such isolated, are more likely to become further withdrawn, more anxious, stressed, agitated and need emotional support to overcome their fears. People with underlying medical conditions are having insecurities regarding disruption of essential support, worry of infection and accessibility of medication. The impact on economy of most countries, with falling rates of interest, looming depression, threat of unemployment, financial insecurity are other concerns.

These unprecedented times call for timely, innovative and unconventional solutions.

Psychological response has to be mobilized in a warlike manner with simultaneous integration of all resources. Integrated involvement of the family, society, community; mobilization of psychologists and psychiatrists as also students with distinct divisions of responsibility is essential. Identification of vulnerabilities, educational training capsules to enhance workforce, simultaneous formation of research teams, screening by assessment and evaluation tools and prompt intervention by proactive measures would help in reducing the psychological aftershock. Psychosocial crisis intervention models need to be optimized by utilization of online technology platforms. The government and media, also need to play an imperative role in sharing accurate and duly sifted information to avoid the spread of panic.

Immediate measures to remain mentally healthy include staying connected, keeping physically and mentally active, managing information intake, mindfulness, meditation, maintaining a routine, taking breaks from social media, avoiding conjecture and speculation, sharing positive news, increasing physical and mental immunity and helping the society.

Emotional support by friends, family and society by working together in a cohesive manner would be critical wherein worries could be shared, issues addressed and difficult feelings managed. The active intervention of the world as a community will surely contain and eradicate this epidemic, however, the psycho-social impact cannot be wished away and will have to be fought for years to come.

<em>(The writer is a student of applied psychology, views expressed are her own)</em>.