Covid19 and the Psychosocial Challenges
By: Fayaz Ahmad Paul
Covid19 and its various strains have affected the world in a massive way and caused tumultuous economic lows besides testing and stretching the healthcare systems and exposing the underdeveloped medical sector in nearly all countries including the developed as well as the developing ones. Besides inflicting human and material losses, the pandemic also tarnished human race mentally causing an exponential increase in stress and anxiety among the masses.
Containment measures, including strict lockdowns, employed in various countries have led to drastic changes in the day-to-day lives of people. Although these changes are a requisite to deal with the spread, but these are accompanied by certain unintended negative outcomes. Psychiatric Social workers and other mental health professionals play an important role to curb the consequences of the lockdown on mental wellbeing among the populations.
During any outbreak of an infectious disease, the population’s psychological reactions play a critical role in shaping both spread of the disease and the occurrence of emotional distress and social disorder during and after the outbreak. Despite this fact, sufficient resources are typically not provided to manage or attenuate pandemics’ effects on mental health and wellbeing. While this might be understandable in the acute phase of an outbreak, when health systems prioritize testing, reducing transmission and critical patient care, psychological and psychiatric needs should not be overlooked during any phase of pandemic management.
The Covid virus infection spreads, the depression, anxiety and stigma associated with it also proliferates. Therefore, it is important that mental health professionals explore ways in which people react to this stressful situation. Anxiety, sleeplessness, fear of contracting the virus, frustration and irritability are some effects of long-term lockdown during pandemics. Misinformation and sharing of fake news through social media are some factors that cause anxiety and stigma among people. In this view, the uncertainty adds to an individual’s sense of unease, leading to loss of hope and initiative.
People who have active symptoms of the disease hesitate to disclose or seek help as they anticipate stigma from the society. Fear and unawareness about health promoting strategies can lead to uncooperativeness towards health workers and governmental instructions. Psychiatric Social workers should provide awareness about different stress reactions besides authentic and relevant information about the pandemic. The fear of contracting the pandemic could be more destructive than the Covid pandemics itself. Therefore, even the uninfected population must be educated about this and should be provided with hope and optimism intervention.
Various research studies conducted all over the world show that during the Covid time, there is was upsurge in domestic violence cases, lack of personal space in the family and boredom. Home-makers might be burdened by shortage of supplies and the sudden need to care for the entire family. Parents might be stressed by the thoughts about the future of their own jobs as well as the education of their children. Spending more time inside the house can lead to physical inactivity and delay in milestones among all family members. Therefore, parents should be educated to encourage their children to engage in more creative activities including indoor games, gardening and drawing etc. Parents should find time to play with the children and engage in daily activities which strengthens the family relationship and helps to pass time.
The lockdown in last March provided people with more free time. Some people used this time creatively for self-care, picking up new hobbies and acquiring new skills. On the other side, some people may get bored and frustrated. This leads to unhealthy daily routines. These include unhealthy sleep habits, extended screen time and lack of self-efficacy activities. Not knowing how to utilize time effectively can also lead to over-thinking, ruminating and losing hope. These unhealthy cognitions could turn into habits which might be carried forward even after the containment of the virus. Therefore, it is advised to prepare a timetable by scheduling time for sleep, exercise, leisure, online socializing and relaxation.
Quarantine laws and lockdowns pose threats to certain vulnerable communities. Individuals with substance use disorder are one such vulnerable section that often goes unnoticed. In addition to the higher risk for contracting the virus due to poorer health and immunity, these individuals might also experience withdrawal symptoms. As restrictions made on travel and the market would lead to unavailability of substance, some individuals with substance use disorder might engage in hazardous activities including self-manufacturing of the substance and attempting suicide or other crimes. It is hence important that Psychiatric social workers ensure that such individuals are provided with the access to de-addiction centers or help lines that can treat and guide the individuals in the required manner.
There are various steps that mental health Professionals can and should take to minimize the psychological and psychiatric effects of the pandemic. First, while it might be ostensibly attractive to redeploy mental health professionals to work in other areas of healthcare, this should be avoided. Such a move would almost certainly worsen outcomes overall and place people with mental illness at disproportionate risk of deteriorations in physical and mental health. Secondly, we recommend the provision of psychosocial interventions for communities affected by pandemic 2019, particular supports for people at high risk of psychological morbidity, enhanced awareness and diagnosis of mental disorders especially in primary care and emergency departments and improved access to psychological interventions.
The psychosocial impacts of the Pandemics and the lockdown will continue for an indefinite time. Therefore, it is important that mental health professionals closely monitor all these areas to provide specialized intervention. Psychiatric Social workers should ensure that awareness programmes are integrated with Psycho social intervention to help not only the infected but also their family and other vulnerable communities.
The writer is a Research Fellow at LGB Regional Institute of Mental Health Tezpur, Assam.