A closer look at mental health during COVID-19 pandemic

Representative image (Courtesy: New York University)
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By Siddhi Jain

New Delhi– The lockdown witnessed an increase in the number of cases of substance use like alcohol, nicotine, sleep disturbances, anxiety episodes, depressive symptoms and more, says an India-based medical expert.

According to Kanishk Gupta, Co-Founder and CEO at Sukoon Hospital, clinically governed by Fortis Healthcare, it was as a result of high levels of socioeconomic insecurity, shift from traditional classroom to online teaching, zero social interaction or gathering to suspension of community activities.

“It was also observed that the restriction in mobility and emerging trends of work from home affected corporate groups as overall productivity of their projects in terms of quality of work and inability to meet deadlines got affected. In totality, the pandemic had a looming threat to many people’s mental and physical health, leading to increased uncertainty and anxiety. And those who identified themselves as vulnerable were, in fact, more anxious and depressed. We are social animals and it is fundamental to our being that we keep moving, connecting with people and others at the workplace of social gathering. The lack of it becomes physically and psychologically risky for the entire humankind,” Gupta told IANSlife.

Noting that the pandemic brought with it a worldwide chaos that affected people’s mental as well as physical well-being and the nationwide lockdown made the matters worse, he said that the medical fraternity has acted very rapidly in response to the global crises and the wave of uncertainty it caused.

“E-therapy, firstly, has been on the rise since the lockdown as more people accepted their mental health and took charge of it. With tele-consultation, it became easier for these groups to act in support of their mental distress. Then there were platforms offering chat therapy or those promoting helpful content for people who were yet to identify and acknowledge their mental health. The lockdown turned out to be a latent opportunity for the mental health industry as doctors, therapists, and hospitals took this time to reevaluate the use of technology in promoting, benefiting, and treating mental health.

“We must appreciate the various initiatives that made symptom-reporting, mobility-pattern analysis and contact-tracing feasible for the policymakers to take necessary action; and to those startups in the mental health industry who have been the public with informative content, issuing awareness campaigns, releasing SMS and instant messages extending their help, and trying to reduce the pressure. Digital technologies combined with telecommunications infrastructure and internet availability proved to be assets in the situation and helped in uncovering the many ways in which science can help the mental health industry,”

Gupta also spoke about the healthcare workers who have been fighting the virus upfront. “The coronavirus pandemic had hit our healthcare sector off-guard, much of which wasn’t prepared to tackle a disease of this scale. With limited doctors and nurses, limited investment in the equipment, and even more limited space to occupy patients, the frontline workers were under a lot of pressure. They have been working relentlessly treating infectious patients, cleaning up post-surgical patients, and making difficult choices like whom to operate first, on an everyday basis. The pandemic has put an additional burden on their normal lives.”

The mental health expert recalled how, in the initial phases of the lockdown, the entire nation clapped in support of the frontline workers to boost their morale and pray for the stronger will of the medical fraternity.

“Doctors and nurses have been dedicatedly working in service of those battling with COVID-19. The ever-increasing number of patients every day is leaving these brave hearts with tougher choices to make. These people have been working continuously and collecting human waste, cleaning up post-surgical patients, and removing infectious biomedical waste from the hospital premises. This additional burden that they have been engaged in during the lockdown puts their own lives under continuous threat.

“While they are battling for the lives of their patients, their families live under a fear of being infected. We have seen cases where doctors wouldn’t go home just so they could protect their family members from the infection. This has had a grieving effect on their mental state. I think both government and hospital authorities have a duty towards their employees and their families. They must make necessary arrangements and provide nutritious meals and carefully designed PPE kits for their doctors, nurses, and ward boys. The experts as a team with volunteers and the society could contact their families in fulfilling their essential needs as the situation has even impacted their financial health. By providing financial and emotional support to the frontline workers and their family, we will only make our fighters stronger so they can perform better.” (IANS)



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