Psychologist’s note: Mental health in the time of a pandemic

Photo: Jyotirmoy Gupta

Renima K P

“During a time of a disaster or an epidemic, anxiety disorder, phobia, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and depressive thoughts are more likely to be triggered in mentally ill people and aggravate their condition,” Mita Rena a clinical psychologist explained. This emphasizes the importance of mental health during the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic which killed 228,000 people worldwide till the date.

Psychological issues following the pandemic are common. Most of the affected will require only brief assessments and immediate support. This will require all front-line personnel to be competent in simple psychological assessment and basic knowledge of symptoms and treatment protocols of Covid-19, Quarantine rules, isolation periods, and physical distancing and not social distancing- people should be socially connected with others.

Distancing in the times of a raging pandemic can be psychologically distressing for many. However, there are simple and effective actions that you can take as a health care provider. Key among them is providing accurate information. The health care provider should be seen as a reliable and trustworthy source of information. Explain the rationale of quarantining and physical distancing. Promote reliable sources of information. Inform patients what symptoms to watch out for and what symptoms not to worry about. Encourage people to remain in touch with each other over virtual means. Address stigma. Finally, if you come across anyone having significant distress have them referred to a mental health professional. Understanding the mental health needs of people in hospital quarantine is important as it’s likely that many are likely to develop psychological issues that need early intervention.

There are many vulnerable groups like old aged people, people who are having mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, Obsessive-Compulsive disorders, other psychotic disorders, pregnant women, neonatal babies, people who are suffering from Alcohol Dependent Syndromes and other substance-dependent syndromes. Family members should make those their primary concern, as well as the frontline professionals, should be available anytime to those vulnerable.

There are many organizations that came forward to provide online counseling for those who are facing mental health issues during the pandemic. Most of the Covid-19 cases will be recognized and treated in a health care setting by professionals with little to no mental health training. “ideally the integration of mental health considerations into Covid-19 care will be addressed that organizational level through state and local planning; mechanisms for identifying, referring, and treating severe psychosocial consequences; and ensuring the capacity for consulting with specialists. The media could share the experience of patients who got cured of covid-19. The professionals also can provide the techniques to deal with stress, anxieties as well as depression such as coping with stress, relaxation techniques for anxieties, cognitive-behavioral techniques for depression. Since the media reports can be emotionally disturbing, contact with pandemic-related news should be monitored and limited.

As we slowly approach the third phase of the contagion, we are left to face a Kafkaesque scenario in many countries including India. The number of infected personals with respect to one of the most poorly developed healthcare systems in the world itself stresses the importance of rethinking India’s whole approach to development.

The steep increase in the number of infected cases may also create emergency situations that require immediate attention like fear, anxiety, anger, and symptoms of recurrent depression. “We are seeing the spread of a virus, but we have also from the very beginning, been seeing the spread of fear as well”, Says Ayisha Malik, A psychologist at World Health Organization.

Covid-19 is not just a threat to our physical health, it also has the ability to treat our mental health so that it is very important to give concerns to your mental health, maintaining your relationship, good sleep, and daily routines could effectively help to improve the mental health during the pandemic.

Reference:

NIMHANS. (2020). Mental Health in the times of Covid-19 Pandemic.

Pfefferbaum, B. (2020). Mental health and Covid -19 Pandemic. The New England Journal of Medicine.

Renima K P is a consultant psychologist in Kerala

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