This article is written by Seep Gupta, from the Institute of Law, Jiwaji University. This is an exhaustive article that deals with the upcoming mental health challenge people are likely to face in the post-COVID era.
“A 16-year-old died because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in the second wave on 2nd of May. He was on the ventilator for three days and he left behind his whole family. Due to financial constraints, his family was not able to pay hospital bills. The hospital charged nearly Rs. 2 lakhs for the treatment. The family could not arrange the money in due time”.
We all have been witnessing such catastrophic and devastating news for a month. Such negative and pessimistic news has started taking a toll on our mental health. Fear, worry and anxiety are the normal way of responding to external threats. That is our body’s natural way of coping with anxiety. But when anxiety or stress crosses the threshold limit, it becomes over-board and overwhelming. At that time it is a clear reminder for us that we need to pause down. This article will focus on the high need to address our mental health in this raging pandemic.
Statistics regarding mental health illnesses throughout the world during the COVID pandemic
It is a well-known fact that mental illnesses affect our body in the same way as physical illnesses, sometimes even more severe than physical illnesses. Pandemic has been hard on all of us, especially during the initial days. Many newly formed challenges such as social, isolation, joblessness, childcare and many more have affected our mental health drastically. Not only in India but mental health globally took a hit especially in the first wave of lockdown. Different people have been affected due to different reasons. Some found it difficult to cope up with the grief and loss of their loved ones. While the rest are finding it hard to overcome financial restrictions and job insecurities. Even the privileged ones are affected. Pandemic has proved to be catastrophic for all the health care and frontline workers who have been working round the clock, day and night to ensure proper health care facilities for citizens. But “with great power comes great responsibility”, this pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of frontline and health care workers too.
A recent survey that was conducted in the USA among 562 people, revealed the horrendous effect of a pandemic on mental health. According to the survey, so many people resorted to drugs and substance abuse such as alcohol and marijuana to cope up with the emotional stress and depression. The same survey revealed that 38% of people were feeling low and lacking energy, 36% were having sleep disturbances and were suffering from insomnia, and 25% of people were feeling down, hopeless and depressed. A year ago, it was still less. We all were hopeful that there is a light at the end of the tunnel but as months progressed, it is becoming tougher day by day to cope up with negative and obsessive thoughts and chronic anxiety.
India is also affected by the horrendous coronavirus pandemic. It has posed an unprecedented challenge to our health system facilities and made them completely vulnerable. A recently conducted survey and meta-analysis of the prevalence of psychological co-morbidities among COVID 19 patients, health care workers and the general population revealed that 40% of them are suffering from poor sleep quality, 34% of people are suffering from stress while 34% are suffering from psychological distress. Another online survey revealed that 40.5% of participants reported depressive or anxiety symptoms. Another three fourth of the participants reported a moderate level of stress and poor well-being. Stress and anxiety are increasing day by day as there is a steep increase in the number of coronavirus cases every day.
According to the 2015-16 National Mental Health Survey, there are only 0.05 psychiatrists among 1,00,000 people in Central India. This ratio is very very inconsistent and very unstable. Some social groups such as sexual minorities, old and sick people, pregnant women and children are more likely to suffer from the harsh effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The impact of lockdown and pandemic is likely to be heaviest on those people who are alone, poor, destitute, psychologically burdened and those who are out of the mainstream baseline.
Frontline workers also have a high risk of developing depression and other mental health illnesses because they are much more vulnerable to the virus as compared with other social groups. An online survey that was conducted via an anonymous google form, among 282 Indian adults, keeping in mind the following parameters such as anxiety, depression, internet and pornography addiction, drug addiction, experiences of hostility, changes in food and sleep habits, social empathy and relationship quality to get the better psychological and sociological picture of life during the lockdown. In this survey, it was found that the general anxiety disorder was high among sexual minorities than heterosexual people. It also revealed a very specific fact that people who were close to their families and shared a friendly bond and vulnerabilities with them were more likely to have social empathy and better social relationships. However, the qualitative part of the study revealed that the stoic and resilient attitude, healthy coping mechanisms and other strategies helped even high-risk individuals to stay positive during the coronavirus lockdown.
United States of America
In a recent study, researchers analysed the mental health of 1,441 US adults, all between the age of 18 years or older. They found that depression symptoms increased by three times as compared to pre-pandemic times which is quite a shocking revelation. It has increased to 27% from 8.5% during the coronavirus pandemic. A COVID pandemic is a traumatic event that has changed the physiology of our body mentally, physically and emotionally. The occurrence of anxiety and depression symptoms after any traumatic event is quite normal. Usually, it is also accompanied by the symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). But usually, they are not everlasting. Long-lasting depression can lead to many psychological and permanent health damages to the body. According to another study which was done in 2010, the findings were related to major psychological changes that occur in a body after a major traumatic event. It was revealed that after the 9/11 attacks, 9.6% of adults in Manhattan possessed symptoms that were consistent with depression and post-traumatic disorder.
More than 42% of people surveyed by the US Census Board showed the symptoms of depression and other mental health illnesses, an increase from 11% the previous year. It was at its peak during December 2020. According to the psychologist, Luana Marques at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts “these statistics are not going to go back baseline anytime soon”. The root cause of mental health illness stems from limited or minimal social interaction, lockdown, anticipated fear of illnesses and loss of one’s loved ones.
Anticipation of mental health pandemic post-COVID
Despite modern medicine and technology, the coronavirus pandemic has caused more than 1 million reported deaths all over the world. Aside from the death toll, this pandemic has triggered many physical, mental, social and emotional challenges in people. Covid-19 has already led to a diverse and wide array of mental health illnesses such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic disorders, trauma and other stress-related disorders.
Highly risked individuals such as frontline and health care workers and poor people are more likely to get affected by it than people who are at low risk in the social structure hierarchy. Every individual has a personal story to recite. No one is untouched by it. The Centre for Disease Control, USA found that 40.9% of people out of 5470 respondents have reported adverse mental health including the symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, depression and suicide ideations. According to the experts, this has increased by the order of several magnitudes as compared to the year 2019. Some psychiatrists have declared, “Mental Health Pandemic” amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
For some people, the feeling of anxiety, grief and sadness because of the loss of loved ones or feelings of isolation will continue even after the end of the pandemic. The mental effect of coronavirus will continue to persist down the road even after the end of the pandemic in some people depending on the magnitude of desperation and despair. This burden will further amplify the already stretched burden of mental health issues and stigmatise it even more. This sudden spike and anticipation of a huge number of mental health cases are because of several reasons such as helplessness, loss of loved ones, fear of getting infected with the diseases, hopelessness about the future, job loss due to corona, social isolation, adaptation of new changes and various other reasons. Coronavirus pandemic has become a chronic trigger in seeding the mental health issues in all social groups of people.
Modern techniques and the invention of vaccines have proved to be beneficial in the current COVID crisis and in curbing the problem to some extent but still, the virus has resulted in the distorted social fabric and lack of emotional and social support. At the start of the pandemic, there was a ray of hope among the masses but as time is passing people are getting depressed and losing hope. No one knows regarding the remote and far fetched damages caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Experts have warned people to brace themselves for long-term mental effects and psychological fallout induced by the pandemic.
Reasons for the sudden and alarming increase in the rate of mental health, illnesses and anxiety
It’s tough for all of us to quickly adapt to change. Our brain requires both effort and time to embrace any change especially if the change is so vast and unpredictable. Work from home, social isolation, wearing masks have become the new normal now. There isn’t any one particular reason that can justify the possible causation of increment in mental health cases during a pandemic.
- Accumulation of many things has resulted in a steep rise in mental health issues among the masses. The emotional turmoil of losing a loved one, job insecurity, unemployment, increase in obsessive-compulsive behaviours, emotional negligence, chronic loneliness, social isolation, feelings of grief, sadness and hopelessness are major causes for the sudden increase of mental health issues. Feeling that life has lost meaning, voidness and mental burnout also contribute to it.
- Health care workers and people with existing mental health disorders are more vulnerable groups. Many health care workers have stretched out and even used their reserved energy. They have fully become exhausted and feel burned out now. A country is nothing and cannot sustain itself without a proper and healthy health care system and facilities.
- In a pandemic, there is an increase in telepsychiatry and teletherapy services. Many therapists and psychiatrists are providing remote counselling and prescribing remote medications just to ensure that one does not feel low and help and constant support is tried to be made available.
Life after the Covid-19 outbreak will never be the same. We all are waiting for a new beginning. Beginning of a post COVID world where everything will change and we have to adapt our behaviour according to those changes. Our values, our lives, our homes, our etiquettes and way of social interaction, perspective and social outlook, everything will change. We are tempted to wonder and are curious regarding what the future holds for us but as the future is unpredictable we really can’t say anything accurately. Long term coronavirus effects usually include, increase in the economic division, more cars and fewer people on roads (means people will become habitual of staying inside their homes and we’ll witness very few people outside unlike earlier), changes in physical and mental health, changes in lifestyle and maybe a dramatic rise in social leisure activities and social interactions.
Ways to stay grounded and coping mechanisms
Overwhelmed feelings and anxiety because of witnessing continuous negativity and pessimism around us can take a toll on anyone’s mental health. Having mixed emotions is quite normal during a pandemic. However, I can understand the magnitude of the issue but there are some coping mechanisms and grounding techniques that helped me personally during the pandemic.
- Uninstall social media apps from the phone and only browse them through google. Deactivate social media and practise social media detoxification once a month.
- Exercise regularly, practise mindfulness techniques and do meditation at least 10 mins a day. Take deep breaths to avoid stress and anxious feelings.
- Take a balanced diet full of vitamins, nutrients, minerals and stay hydrated.
- Take some time out to pursue your hobbies and do journaling so as to execute and channelise your energy and emotions in a proper manner. Take some time off and stay in touch with your friends, family or loved ones. Social interaction is the need of the hour.
- If you are struggling to cope, always remember to speak up and seek help if it is required. There is always someone to help you. Please stay safe and do not harm yourself in any way.
In the end, I won’t write too much, but I just want to conclude by saying that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, “This too shall pass”. Just don’t be tough and too harsh on yourself and I do believe that however it doesn’t matter how impossible it seems right now but we are going to make it out together.
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