Ironically, self-isolation and social distancing are listed as the symptoms of a plethora of mental illnesses including depression and anxiety; whereas socializing and everyday social activity eases these symptoms as suggested by mental health experts.
In these glooming times of Covid-19, frequent lockdowns and quarantine have become a new normal with self-isolation, social distancing, and quarantine as obligatory norms. These idiosyncratic prevailing times will have a lasting effect on our physical and mental well-being. Whereas physical changes are highly manageable, it is the mental health one should be highly concerned about and seeking timely measures to overcome the distress.
The World Health Organization (WHO) in their estimates predicts an unprecedented increase in mental health-related problems in the coming years. Further, depression is expected to be the leading health disorder by 2030. These upsetting mental health condition predictions are attributed to the current Covid-19 pandemic.
Covid-19 pandemic is predicted to shift the mental landscape of our civilization more than any catastrophe has ever done. The present situation may not appear as upsetting as being perceived but the future predictions do not look encouraging, believing the scientific reports. Like the 1918 post-flu pandemic, Covid-19 will leave the worst impact for the majority of the world’s population. Emerging reports suggest more economic crises, high incidences of health and societal problems, a rise in unemployment, substance abuse, and escalation in criminal activities. Most of these crisis factors are associated will have a far-reaching effect on our mental health but the situation is manageable. Taking early measures will define our future of living and it is thus imperative to develop a comprehensive understanding of these issues which the current Covid-19 pandemic will inflict on us.
Behavioral and emotional changes
An individual who has been quarantined, self-isolated, and those recovering from the disease may exhibit some of the peculiar behavioral and cognitive changes. These changes may not hold a permanence but people with the underlying mental condition may be the worst affected. Some of these changes are listed below based on the emerging recent evidences: Constant fear of catching the infection or the worry that the loved ones may get infected; anger and frustration which leads to the blame game and frequent clashes with the family members or friends; fear of losing the job or concern about finding a job in a situation like this where unemployment is on the rise; negative thoughts and feelings that something bad is going to happen to you or your loved ones; worried about the family members and friends who are abroad or living out of the state; addiction to social media and spending overtly more time in indulging in irrelevant and unnecessary activities; and impaired memory, mind wandering, frequent mood swings, overtly aggressive behavior, robust changes in the eating and sleeping pattern, and episodes of anxiety are some other warning signs people may be witnessing.
Besides these behavioral and cognitive changes exhibited by non-infected and recovered patients, emerging reports suggest that coronaviruses have a direct effect on the brain and the secondary factors of Covid-19 may also affect the nervous system. These changes may be associated with lasting neurological impairments as suggested by early reports.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), the term coined by John Kabat Zinn is a stress-reduction technique with remarkable outcomes. This scientifically validated intervention has shown promising results to relieve both physical and mental distress. Encouraging scientific studies have been published which have demonstrated the efficacy of MBSR in alleviating the symptoms of anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disease, substance abuse, and other mental health-related issues.
Considering the ongoing obscure situation, giving MBSR a try may not do any harm but will have a definite soothing effect on our unsettled physical and mental health. In its entirety, the technique works where a person has to follow a well-formulated training session which can last from a couple of minutes up to an hour. In its simplest form, effortless abdominal breathing and non-judgmental acceptance of present experiences are performed to gain control over the thoughts, emotions, feelings, impulses, and movements. The detailed training plan can be found in many self-help books like the Full Catastrophe Living or Mindfulness for Beginners by John Kabat Zin, Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod, and 10% Happier by Dan Harris, etc. Further, one can look at the Youtube videos from well-qualified practitioners and online self-help websites and study material.
Online counseling and care
Online counseling and consultation have also become a new normal during this pandemic. A large number of health organizations have started providing mental health therapy sessions online over the phone, chat, or video conferencing. These interventions may be associated with some limitations than in-person consultation, but they have advantages besides being safe during this time of the pandemic. Many organizations provide free online counseling while others are on a charge basis and all these organizations have dedicated and professional mental health experts. One can Google these organizations “Free online mental counseling” and get help online. Thus, if any of you have or a loved one have an underlying mental condition or exhibit any of the above-mentioned symptoms over these months of the pandemic, it is advisable to consult a mental health expert so that timely measures will help you to overcome this menace.
An enigmatic situation is presented by the Covid-19, where an extended period of stay in the home, isolation, social distancing, and quarantine will take a toll on our mental health. However, the human mind is so plastic that it has the potential to overcome any difficult situation, provided adequate and timely measures are taken. We should accept and adjust to this new lifestyle until a permanent cure for the disease is found like a vaccine. Times like these will have a definite impact on our mental health but the situation is highly manageable provided we take early measures.
Author is Assistant Professor, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi