• Thursday, Dec 01, 2022
  • Last Update : 10:24 am

OP-ED: What Covid-19 has done to our mental health

A healthy routine can help BIGSTOCK

Anxiety and depression are through the roof, but there is a silver lining

Covid-19 has brought unprecedented challenges into our daily lives, which warrant collective effort on all fronts. Rich or poor, male or female, healthy or sick, everyone has their own individual psychological needs, which often go ignored. We think about our financial plight but often pay no heed to our psychological well-being, just like our ancestors failed to.

Lockdowns are still happening around the globe to combat the spread of coronavirus. Unfortunately, this has turned into a web of deceit: People are not only vulnerable physically, but also psychology. 

Both sides of the coin

Lockdowns and self-isolation at home have been the main measures to combat the spread of this disease after its community transmission turned into a massacre. 

While primary intervention might well have achieved its goal, it has gradually led to confusion regarding whether people’s kinship is becoming stronger or weaker.

If we look around, we can easily see that family bonds are really strong for the most part. But that’s just one side of the coin. 

If we dig in deep, we’ll see that the reduction of support from family and friends, trauma from financial losses, degradation of regular social support systems, emotional disturbances, depression, stress, irritability, insomnia, post-traumatic stress, anger, emotional exhaustion, and addiction to electronic devices (especially mobile phones) have led to increasing bouts of loneliness, worsening anxiety, and depressive symptoms.

If they are unable to cope or if left untreated, these psychological symptoms may have long-term health effects. 

Even social workers, doctors, and front line warriors are facing considerable stress, anxiety, depressive symptoms, burnout, overthinking, and much more.

All in this together

Those who aren’t used to staying within four walls for extended periods of time have also faced depressed states of mind. They need to try to get closer with their family by spending more and more time with them. It’s a two-way street and other family members have to understand them and try helping them out.

Those who are Covid-19 victims have to self-isolate to protect others from the spread of this disease. They often have to face unpleasant experiences, such as the loss of freedom, separation from loved ones, uncertainty over disease status, fear of detachment from relatives and society, increasing anxiety, negative thoughts about medications, loss of hope, and so on.

That’s why we should try to understand them and act responsibly so that they don’t feel detached or start hating themselves. We have to remember that we are all in this together. That is the only way we can reduce the negative outcomes of this virus.

Even quarantined staff, doctors, and nurses are significantly affected by the exhaustion, detachment from others, anxiety about dealing with febrile patients, insomnia, and deteriorating work performance, leading to a reluctance to work or consideration of resignation. 

They are also under immense mental pressure and in constant fear of infecting their family members. We should be sympathetic enough to help ease their mental fears or pressures, and show our whole-hearted support and respect towards their work.

The Chinese, Singaporean, and Australian governments have highlighted the psychological side-effects of Covid-19, and have voiced concerns regarding the long-term impacts of isolation, suggesting that the fear and panic in the community might cause more harm than Covid-19 itself.

“Fear and anxiety are natural human reactions. We all want to protect ourselves and our families from what is still a new and unknown disease,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore said on February 8 in a statement. 

“But fear can do more harm than the virus itself. It can make us panic, or do things which make matters worse, like circulating rumours online, hoarding face masks or food, or blaming particular groups for the outbreak.” 

A recent survey by icddr,b and NIMH shows that mental disorders in the country varied from 6.5% to 31% among adults, and 3.4% to 22.9% among children. A substantial percentage of people suffering from mental health issues follow ancient methods such as kobiraji, totka, faith healers, and so on.

Unfortunately, around 57% people go to faith healers, whereas only 14% consult psychiatrists as their first choice.

The rate of suicide is also on the rise -- 83% of reported suicides have had contact with faith healers or primary care physicians. Reports from the UK say that Bangladesh, despite being a densely populated country, has only 50 clinical psychologists and 200 psychiatrists, ie, one mental health specialist for every 800,000 people.

How the students are faring

Even students are facing significant depression and mental trauma as their institutions are closed due to Covid-19. 

Jannatul Ferdous Nipa, a student from the University of Dhaka, said: “After the official lockdown from March 16, I was sitting idle at home. It was really tough for me initially because I’m an outgoing person. That’s why, for a few weeks after lockdown, I felt really low. 

“I became addicted to gadgets and the internet. After a few days, a voice inside made me realize that I wasn’t going the right way and that this was not the proper lifestyle to follow.

“So, I started thinking what I should do to ease my mental pressure as it was burning me up from the inside. 

“Then I started to spend some time with my family. Days went by, and I started playing ludo, badminton, and doing other fun stuff with them. 

Not only that, we even started praying and reading the Holy Qur’an together. This is when I realized that I had been too detached from my family and how much I actually enjoyed their company. I also started feeling fresh and at peace.

“Again, from my childhood days, I had a knack for painting. But for academic purposes, I didn’t get enough time. 

“But now I started it and have been enjoying it ever since. I have even started an online page to exhibit and sell my paintings. Everything is going really well for me. 

“I think everyone might not be in the shoes as me, but for anyone who is facing the same mental ordeal, I would recommend that they try to spend some time with their family members. It’ll refresh their minds and help rediscover themselves.”

Antora Islam, a student of the Fine Arts Department of Dhaka University, said: “It’s been four months since quarantine began. Before the lockdown, I was in critical condition due to illness. 

“But my diagnosis went wrong and I almost had to undergo surgery. Fortunately, the surgery was cancelled. I communicated with my new doctor via Whatsapp for two months, which was really stressful for me. 

“The next two months would’ve been traumatic too if I didn’t get enough support from my family. That was when I realized that mental health was really important.

“I decided to spend my time properly so that I could stay mentally fit. I didn’t take any online courses like others because I wanted to focus on myself. 

“I have been interested in arts since an early age. I love music as well. Whenever I got some free time, I record my music and even upload it on social media. 

“I also learned to sew from my mother, who made the needle and thread very dear to me. I often like to get dressed up in colourful sarees too. 

“Besides, I have a garden on my roof and like to spend some time there to have some fresh air. Really, it’s so soothing and refreshing. 

“So, I will just say one thing to everyone from my realizations -- life is waving at you every moment, just wave back and see what happens.”

It is high time we look into our regular activities and change according to the need of the situation. Self-motivation can keep us away from anxiety. 

The Covid-19 outbreak has shown us that we should turn our pages and think about our mental health too.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has given out some directions to follow during this period that people can benefit from. Having a routine and trying to maintaining it as best as possible can be a stress-buster, too. 

Getting up early, having some time in the daylight, keeping up with personal hygiene, eating healthy meals at regular times, exercising regularly, taking proper rest, going to bed early, and making time for other refreshments properly can be a good way to keep your mind refreshed and stay healthy.

Remember, health is wealth. Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise. We need to believe in ourselves and try our best to maintain the proper directions. Together, we can overcome this pandemic.

Jannatul Fariha Yeasmin Eid, Ahmudul Haque, Tasmiah Amin and Jasika Islam are students of development studies.

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