In What Ways Has The Coronavirus Pandemic Been Detrimental To Mental Health. How Can We Mitigate Its Effects?
The ‘Coronavirus’ Pandemic
In January 2020, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of Coronavirus as a Public Health Emergency. It has created debilitating effects in the whole world, as much as in India. The Indian Healthcare system, Economy, Geo-Political scenario, MSME Sector, Migrants and labours are wretched, and in a deplorable condition and about the same, the government and the authorities are doing an outstanding job in handling the crisis as better as possible.
At the same time, this outbreak has taken a toll, not only on people's lives and physical health but also cast multiple consequences on their mental health. This disease has led to uncertain changes in living pattern, daily routine, financial setting and social life. There is a lot of misinformation and rumour spreading around, which can make a person feel unclear and not in control of their own lives. This has become stressful for people around the world. There is a sense of fear and anxiety, which is a result of overwhelming emotions and precariousness.
Public health actions, such as social distancing, can make people feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety. However, these actions are necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Therefore, coping with mental effects in a healthy way can help people sail through these debilitating times and rise stronger collectively. During the COVID-19 pandemic, one can experience stress, anxiety, fear, sadness and loneliness, and mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression, can worsen. In the light of the same, World Health Organization has released advice on protecting mental health during the coronavirus outbreak, which is universally lauded.
The effect of Covid-19 on Mental Health
The world has faced several other epidemics and outbreaks such as SARS and MERS. But the present Coronavirus is unprecedented. The rapid spread has spawned strain on the ability of the nations to keep their economies afloat. It further reveals the reality of the healthcare infrastructure and treatment accessibility in various countries.Continuous concerns and discussions are surrounding the physical health, but it is crucial to assess the real impact of COVID-19 on mental health and then to analyze and adopt strategies to mitigate its effect.
Mental health is an important part of overall health and wellbeing. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It may also affect our ability to handle stress, make choices, and our action during a health emergency. The pandemic can significantly affect mental health for everyone, but especially for those with mental illness. Both the anxiety of contracting the disease as well as the increase in loneliness and isolation can worsen and trigger symptoms. Acknowledging, recognizing and acting on mental distress in these uncertain times is key to lessening the impact. Some of the major symptoms which one should look out for are:
Furthermore, social isolation is related to numerous symptoms. Due to the past experiences of the epidemics, it is known that such outbreaks can elicit anxiety and anticipation of possible infection, which sometimes manifests itself as health anxiety. This can get a person to become exaggeratedly preoccupied with one's health and a continuous body vigilance, which may create various mistaken beliefs about their health. These can persist and evolve into more intense symptoms such as anxiety and panic attacks. Misleading information from news outlets and social media can exacerbate restlessness. The headlines about the new infection rate and the death toll are persisting, which can re-affirm that the condition is spreading at an exponential rate. This potentially increases anxiety and depressive disorders and worsens matters for people restrained in their homes.
We are now aware that it is a community ordeal. Now, it is upon us to undertake measures which will aid in diminishing uneasiness in day-to-day life, or consider reaching out to a psychotherapist that can help ameliorate the unnecessary paranoia. It also should involve journalists, as they should endeavour to be progressively exact on their reports and maintain a strategic distance from click-baiting. Besides, policymakers have the chance to show that science and technology will advance their choices and decisions in health policies. At the point when one of these instruments are not acting solidly during the pandemic, subjects who already have a mental disease are the ones most susceptible to the worsening of their illness. While staying up to date and informed about the coronavirus pandemic and the latest public health measures is important, it's also essential to look after self and others around.
Ways to mitigate its effects
It is important to acknowledge the mental effects and to be aware of the ways one can become capable of mitigating the negative effects of this pandemic. Some of them are as follows:
- Social media and news updates
Reading good quality information is crucial in such times when there are constant updates about infections and death tolls, and lots of rumours and false news is spreading around. Therefore, it is important to read reliable information e.g., WHO, NHS website, CDC, avoid speculation, take a regular break from social media, limit media exposure, etc.
- Stay Connected
Staying connected can prove to be healing while going through quarantine measures and self-isolation. Stay in touch with family and friends can help boost mental health and feel associated. Use digital platforms like Skype, Facetime, email, messenger and text, etc. Meanwhile, focus on positive thoughts and try to accept the changes and keep the perspective in place.
- Self-isolation, social distancing and quarantine
The terms' self-isolation', 'social distancing' and 'quarantine' have been used quite interchangeably. For example, people may refer to putting themselves into self-isolation, when they mean that they are practicing social distancing and others might use the phrase quarantine to describe their situation when self-isolation or social distancing is more accurate. It's important to understand the differences between the terminology they use and the affect it can have on those around them.
- A difference in atmosphere when staying or working at home
As working from home is being incentivized, with it accompanies a whole plethora of thoughts and emotions, as people are uncertain as to when they will return to their 'normal' working routine. It can be dealt with, by sticking to a routine, establishing boundaries, taking frequent breaks, setting small goals, supporting team members, etc.
- Find Things to Do/Distraction
Find activities that can be distracting from current events such as household chores, online courses, streaming movies and tv programmes, setting priorities and reasonable goals each day and outline steps to reach those goals.
- Take Care of Yourself, Avoid burnout
It is essential to find ways to take care of self and create a regular routine, but avoid burnout at the same time. The critical self-care activities are sleep, physical exercise and a healthy diet. If a person feels stressful, find a way to let out such as journaling, going for walks or talking to people. It helps in maintain a sense of normality and reduce stress. It is important to practice mindfulness and not think of the future or worst-case scenarios.
- People with Pre-Existing Mental Conditions
People with pre-existing mental health conditions or substance use disorders may be particularly vulnerable in an emergency. Conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia affect a person's thinking, feeling, mood or behavior in a way that influences their ability to relate to others and function each day. People with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms.
- Get help when needed
People may suffer through mental health effects and not do anything about it and continue to suffer. One must not hope that such issues will wane on their own, which can lead to more worsening symptoms. It is better to ask for help, and be upfront about it. While experiencing such issues, one should contact a close friend or loved one, contact employee assistance program, if available, and get counseling or ask for a referral to a mental health professional. Further, in case of feeling suicidal or seeking help, contact organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for help and guidance.
The above-mentioned are some ways a person can keep a check on their mental health and keep it at its best during these distressing times. Simultaneously, the authorities in charge of the healthcare infrastructure and the healthcare stakeholders should also undertake some measures in order to aid the population to deal with the mental effects imposed by the pandemic. Some of them are:
- Strengthen community prevention
The authorities should provide counseling support to individuals and families directly affected by COVID-19, including individuals who lose their jobs, healthcare and essential workers, older adults, people with disabilities, and individuals experiencing extended quarantine. Outreach programmes should be conducted across the communities in order to promote resilience, quell the stigma, and create a platform where people can reach out for help.
- Leverage data and technology
Initially, the predictive analytics must be used to direct prevention and clinical resources to those most at-risk for mental health or substance use problems and unmet basic needs. Moving towards recovery, the use of artificial intelligence must be promoted, improve the data sources, and digital platforms to connect the people seamlessly to the medical care. The government should also consider wide approach to invest and fund tele health structure.
- Integrate behavioral and physical health services
The communities should be made aware of the behavioural health as much as a part of the overall health of a person. It will further aid in reducing the stigma attached to the disease. There should be universal screening and treatment for mental health and substance use problems in healthcare settings, including for individuals at high risk of getting the virus. There should be investment in increasing behavioral health proficiency of primary care providers, and employing peer counselors to enable timely behavioral healthcare, and strengthen capacity of the behavioral health workforce.
- Address unemployment and income disparities
Economic disparity leading to financial strife and unemployment, may prove to be one of the major factors in affecting mental health of a person. To reduce the long-term effects of the same, policy makers and employers should find innovative ways to accelerate skill redevelopment, job redeployment, supported employment, and incentivize investments in local job growth. Moreover, the employers should stick to the regular employee wellbeing measures such as paid sick leave, childcare facilities, and healthcare provisions.
Looking at the trajectory of the COVID-19 outbreak, it can be said that it is not going away anytime soon. The current strong feelings and overwhelming emotions may fade away slowly, but its effects on the mental state can continue to loom. The pandemic might subside but it is going to leave various reverberations which would last for a long while. It is pertinent to continue self-care practices and strive to increase the ability to cope with life's ongoing challenges. The anxiety, stress, financial discord, grief, and general uncertainty of this time will undoubtedly lead to behavioural health crises. Therefore, it is pivotal to advocate for an increased focus on mental health during the coronavirus pandemic, and also highlight the urgent need of augmenting the focus on resilience. This will make people better and efficient to cope with the stresses and effects on mental health imposed by the Covid-19 outbreak, both at individual and societal level.
About the author: Samiksha Agarwal hails from Symbiosis Law School, Pune. She is an avid reader and a prolific writer. She has spent a lot of time volunteering for the NGOs in the field of Child Education. Her interest area lies in the latest judicial pronouncements and legal developments. Chess, Sketching and Cooking are her other interest areas.