Covid-19 crisis and mental health


Dr Tasaduk Hussain Itoo

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) second wave is spreading across the world especially hitting the India in worse manner, it is causing widespread concern, fear and stress, all of which are natural and normal reactions to the changing and uncertain situation that everyone finds themselves in.
It is indeed an unprecedented time for all of us. Everyone of us is likely to be experiencing worry, anxiety and fear, and this can include the types of fears that are very common- such as a fear of dying, a fear of relatives dying, or a fear of what it means to receive medical treatment.
Although all of us are perceptive to change, young children may find the changes that have taken place difficult to understand, and both young and older children may express irritability and anger. Children may find that they want to be closer to their parents, make more demands on them, and, in turn, some parents or caregivers may be under undue pressure themselves.
With regard to older people and also those with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer , lung diseases etc. – who are being identified as more vulnerable to COVID-19, and to be told that you are very vulnerable, can be extremely frightening and very fear-inducing. The psychological impacts for these populations can include anxiety and feeling stressed or angry. Its impacts can be particularly difficult for older people who may be experiencing cognitive decline or dementia effects. And some older people may already be socially isolated and experiencing loneliness which can worsen mental health.
Additionally, the typical issue of social media has been exacerbated by this pandemic. In normal times, social media proves to be a source of anxiety. Currently more in focus are the constant updates about coronavirus, especially those concerning confirmed cases and the number of deaths to date — can be extremely overwhelming and feel relentless. Moreover, rumours and speculation can add fuel to anxiety.
When we are facing a crisis, the first thing that gets negatively affected is our mental wellbeing. This, ironically, is also the first thing that will help us endure and survive the same crisis. In crisis mode, our brains instinctively reduce higher functioning that allows us to do long term planning, and instead shift our thought process to a primal, more immediate threat response. If these symptoms recur and persist, it diminishes the brain’s ability to self-sooth. In the midst of our current COVID19 second wave, self-soothing is the one thing that we need more than ever. Recognizing crisis mode living is the first step to bringing balance to your thinking and your health.
Simple strategies that can address this issue can include giving young people the love and attention that they need to resolve their fears, and being honest with children, explaining what is happening in a way that they can understand, even if they are young. Children are very perceptive and will model how to respond from their carers. Parents also need to be supported in managing their own stressors so that they can be models for their children. Helping children to find ways to express themselves through creative activities, and providing structure in the day through establishing routines, particularly when they are not going to school currently, can be beneficial.
There are many things that older people can initiate themselves or with the support of a carer, if needed, to protect their mental health at this time. These include many of the strategies that we are advocating across the entire population, such as undertaking physical activity, keeping to routines or creating new ones, and engaging in activities which give a sense of achievement. Maintaining social connections is also important. Some older people may be familiar with digital methods and others may need guidance in how to use them. Once again, the mental health and psychosocial support services and other services that are relevant to this population must remain available at this time.
With the disruptive effects of COVID-19, it is important that we check on each other, call and video-chat, give moral support to each other and are mindful of and sensitive to the unique mental health needs of those we care for. Our anxiety and fears should be acknowledged and not be ignored, but better understood and addressed by individuals, communities and governments.
We can draw on the remarkable powers of strength and cooperation that we also fortunately possess as humans. And that is what we must try to focus on to respond most effectively to this crisis as individuals, family and community members, friends and colleagues.
Cultivating and practising a teachable skill like empathy, will take us a long way in our ability to self-sooth. Dr. Anthony Scioli, an American author and clinical psychologist, explains that HOPE is a part of a person’s character or personality. You are not born with hope. Hope must be developed, like a set of muscles.
There are four kinds of hope and just like each muscle, each has a special purpose:
Attachment Hope is used to build and keep trusting relationships, have a sense of connection to others, and have strong survival skills.
Mastery Hope is used to become strong and successful, supported in your efforts, and inspired by good role models.
Survival Hope is used to stay calm and find ways out of trouble or difficult situations. It allows you to manage your fears.
Spiritual Hope is used to feel close to nature and all human beings and to draw extra strength and protection.
(The author is Chairman/Founder/Director Jammu and Kashmir
Innovative Foundation for Transforming Society (JKIFTS), works
at SMVD Narayana Super Speciality Hospital Jammu.)