OPINION

Effect of Covid-19 Pandemic on Mental Health

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By: Firdous Ahmed Lone   

In December 2019, a new infectious disease called coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was identified in Wuhan, China and resulted in an ongoing pandemic affecting millions of people in many countries globally. In order to tackle the current pandemic globally, the governments in various countries had taken emergency measures such as putting areas under strict lockdown, banning or reducing travelling, postponing exams, closing educational institutions, suspending sports activities, encouraging stay at home etc. All of these measures resulted in restricted social activities barring essential movements of individuals. The uncertain prognosis, imposition of public health emergency, large financial losses and constant bombardment of conflict and anxiety provoking messages from authorities and social media are the major stressors that could lead to widespread emotional distress and increase the risk of psychiatric illness associated with COVID-19 pandemic. In this context, the common people as well as most of the frontline workers become more vulnerable to the psychological impact of current pandemic and its negative consequences worldwide.

Many psychological problems such as stress, anxiety, frustration, depression, dilemma, conflict, tension, uncertainty have negative impact on mental health of and individual. The uncertainty and threat can cause fear and stress, the two immediate reactions that are produced by trauma and discomfort. In addition of being infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, people have to handle the whole package of additional problems that come with COVID-19 pandemic, like unemployment issues, maintaining physical distance from family, being stranded outside country, being confined in homes, livelihood problems, economic distress, fear of social instability etc. To keep check on our mental health is as important as our physical health and hygiene. People are undergoing severe stress, anxiety and depression, caught by major distractions like being infected by Covid-19, risk of losing life can result in depressive disorders. There has been drastic change in the sleep schedule of various people which causes insomnia, frustration, anxiety, dilemma etc.

A study recently published in “eLife Magazine” described how pandemics of global scale like COVID-19 can result in paranoia which can be caused by uncertainty about future. Another study revealed that young people and frontline health workers have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression disorders. Other study found link between current restrictions and social isolation with feeling of uncertainty and frustration. Barisch D in his study reported higher number of subjects with psychological symptoms, depression, mood alterations, emotional disturbance, stress, irritability, anger, emotional exhaustion and post-traumatic stress symptoms among those individuals who have been kept in quarantine. The anger, fear and anxiety, confusion grief and numbness are recognized as additional psychological reactions to quarantine. The extensive research links loneliness and social isolation with poor mental health particularly in adolescents and older adults. Research also revealed strong association between job loss and increased anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and distress that may lead to suicidal tendency in some cases. It was also revealed that people with low income showed negative impact of COVID-19 pandemic on mental health as compared to high income groups.

Additionally, the researches indicated that pandemics bring distress across a population and may lead to other mental health issues. Another study found that women have negative mental health impacts due to stress and worry from COVID-19 disease than men. During Coronavirus outbreak in china, a comprehensive study was conducted and the findings revealed that frontline heath care workers reported anxiety, depression and overall psychological burden. Notably, this was acute among nurses, women and frontline workers directly involved in diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 positive patients. This research also indicated that burnouts in hospitals is mainly high among young registered nurses and the nurses working in those hospitals where nurse-to-patient density is low. Study has shown that physicians can also experience burnout and can consequently suffer from mental health issues including substance use.

The current pandemic is likely to have both short-term and long-term implications on mental health of individuals particularly for those group of individuals which are at risk of new or longstanding mental health issues. Various existing studies described that individuals who have been exposed to the risk of getting infection may develop pervasive fears about their physical and mental health.

According to W.H.O. mental health is “a state of wellbeing in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”. Then mental health refers to emotional, behavioral and cognitive well-being. It is about how individual feel, think and behave. The term mental health is in common use, when we talk about it, we are talking about our mental well-being, our feeling, thoughts, and emotions, our capacity and skill to solve the problems and overcome difficulties, our social associations and understanding of the world around us. “Mental health is a dynamic state of internal equilibrium which enables individuals to use their abilities in harmony with universal values of society. Basic cognitive and social skills; ability to recognize, express and modulate one’s own emotions, as well as empathize with others; flexibility and ability to cope with adverse life events and function in social roles; and harmonious relationship between body and mind represent important components of mental health which contribute, to varying degrees, to the state of internal equilibrium”.

Mental health affects our daily living, physical health and our relationships. It is considered as one of the basic, integral and important components of health. When a person keeps balance between the life activities, responsibilities and exertions of achieving psychological resilience, he/she is looking after mental health which can preserve the person’s ability to enjoy the life completely. World Health Organization says that mental health is “more than just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities”.

Presently there is no reliable physical test that can properly indicate whether a person has developed a mental disorder. However, there are possible signs of mental health disorder in an individual like when a person retreats from friends, colleagues and family members, avoids activities that  he or she would normally enjoy, sleeps too less or too much, feels hopeless, feels low energy consistently, eats too much or too less, displays negative emotions, experiences delusion, often thinks of causing harm to himself and others, uses mood-altering substances frequently, regularly appears persistent thoughts and memories, unable to complete the daily work etc. Occasionally signs of mental health disorder appear as physical problems, like headaches, stomach pain or other unexplained aches and pains. Mental health concerns become a mental illness when the current signs cause frequent stress and affect ability of an individual to function. There is no certain way to prevent mental illness but, one can increase resilience to boost low self-esteem and to control stress which may help in keeping your signs under control. Always pay early attention to these warning signs, take help when you need it, continuously take care of yourself and also get medical care from primary health care provider and take psychotherapy. Elders should be provided social support and special attention should be given to most vulnerable people during COVID-19 crisis.

Mental health can become a dangerous threat to life of an individual if not handled correctly. The current public health emergency may affect the safety, health and well-being of individuals. The responses to COVID-19 pandemic may translate into a wide range of emotional reactions and unhealthy behaviors in the individuals who contract the infection and in general population. All the government guidelines and protocols are essential to keep social balance and guarantee the safety of all individuals. But, a comprehensive strategy in order to manage psychological impacts associated with COVID-19 pandemic crisis and its consequences in the public is presently lacking. Although research for biological prevention and cure continues, the focus on psychological impacts and its interventions should not be neglected.

  • The writer is a lecturer in Education Department.

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