The covid 19 pandemic has brought a host of challenges with it, be it economic, interpersonal, health, academic. With people losing their jobs, being confined to their homes, undergoing financial, interpersonal stress, and having to deal with the fear of contracting a life-threatening illness, it’s no surprise that mental health problems are on the rise and are likely to crescendo into a mental health crisis, all over the world.
To effectively manage such a crisis, it is important first to understand the nature of mental health challenges created by the pandemic and its subsequent changes to normal life. One such huge change has been the implementation of lockdowns. This has led to either increased contact with family or a long separation from family, which have resulted in interpersonal distress, be it in the form of increased conflicts due to increased connection or loneliness due to separation. Staying indoors may also mean loss of hobbies and pleasurable activities one would engage in outdoors; such a loss is detrimental to mental health and may worsen depression. Another ill effect of physical distancing has been multiple family members having to share limited home space to work from home, and in some cases having to share devices as well, which has contributed to irritability, frustration, and anger. During work from home, many employers expect more work hours from their employees, leading to increased job stress. Lack of differentiation between work and home space is another concern, as one may find it difficult to relax in the same space where one feels stressed. Another looming stress factor seems to be the prospect of job loss which has led to worry, anxiety, and panic. Additionally, poor self-care and coping may contribute to overeating, poor exercise regimen, late bedtime, and mind-altering substances like alcohol, cigarettes, cannabis, etc., which contribute to poor mental health. All this, in addition to the fear, panic, sense of loss of control brought on by an alarming new virus, cause severe mental turmoil.
Apart from these common, collective anxieties faced by humanity, certain groups of people have it worse. Those with pre-existing mental health conditions will experience a further aggravation of symptoms due to limited access to mental health care coupled with the added stress of the pandemic. Domestic violence has doubled, and in some countries tripled due to lockdown, leading to highly traumatic, and in some cases, life-threatening experiences. Elderly, particularly those living alone, feel further isolated, lonely, and neglected. Children without being allowed to go out are increasingly turning to devices to kill time, contributing to internet addiction. Exposure to adult content, which may be traumatic to children, may lead to interpersonal difficulties in their adult life. People from underprivileged sections of society have lost their means for livelihood; these groups are already highly vulnerable to severe mental health conditions such as psychosis. The pandemic may exacerbate their vulnerability to such conditions. Those affected with the virus or those with loved ones affected with the virus face stigma and have to deal with the fear of contracting it, which may lead to severely traumatizing experiences; some of these people may even experience hopelessness and helplessness. They may end up resorting to dying by suicide.
Several mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, substance use disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, Insomnia are expected to surge due to the pandemic. Suicide rates are also likely to rise due to the pandemic and are expected to peak much later than the covid peak.
Given such grave implications to mental health, we must take precautionary steps to protect it. Fortunately, a few simple and easy-to-do practices such as physical activity, hobbies, virtual social contact, planning the day to include both chores and relaxing activities, mindfulness practice, staying in touch with nature may be helpful. Even a few stretches, finding ways of doing outdoorsy things indoors, and tending to indoor plants may suffice if physical activity, hobbies, and spending time in nature seem like unattainable goals. However, if you or a loved one is finding it difficult to carry out daily routine activities, have seen an increase or decrease in appetite, and increased or decreased sleep, restlessness, feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and or suicidal thoughts, please seek immediate care from a qualified mental health professional.
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