-Hemalatha R, Clinical Psychologist, Sukino Healthcare Solutions Pvt. Ltd., M.Phil Clinical Psychology (R.C.I licensed)
The country is dealing with two lockdowns this year. A physical as well as an emotional one. As we lock horns again with the deadly virus through multiple strategies, most of us are back to our psychological quandary. Though the lockdown and social distancing is hardly a matter of contention anymore, we cannot ignore the news streaming in from various parts of the country about increased cases of anxiety, depression, suicides, and even domestic violence.
This may be attributed to the fear of contracting and spreading the infection, losing our loved ones, being isolated and not being able to cope with these challenging times. In some cases, this may be followed by obsessive thoughts, ruminations, compulsive behaviors such as excessive hand washing, sanitizing, etc., and even taking extreme measures such as locking oneself up out of fear of getting infected. Even harmless environmental stimuli such as a ringing phone may cause panic attacks as one may anticipate the news of COVID infection or death in the family.
The pandemic has indeed shrunken people’s physical as well as emotional spaces.
For women, the lockdown has amplified the challenge in terms of caregiving responsibilities. Children are at home, there are elders to be taken care of and additionally, domestic help is absent. This is disrupting their work-life balance tremendously.
The children and adolescents have to deal with lack of peer interaction, restriction on outdoor activities, increased screen time owing to online classes, and difficulty coping with constantly changing academic calendars. They are hence experiencing anxiety, disturbed sleep, night terrors, and bed-wetting.
Given the lack of beds, ICU facilities, and oxygen supply across various hospitals, the number of casualties is on a constant rise. Even those who may have been cured with timely treatment, are succumbing to the deadly virus. This is leading to significant panic. Among those who have tested positive for COVID, the fight is not only against the virus but also against the social stigma associated with the tag of being “COVID positive”. There is a tendency for society to look at these people as “infection spreaders”. There have been reports of suspected COVID positive individuals being lynched, ostracized, and not being provided with even the essential needs, thereby dehumanizing them.
As the death toll increases, it is only obvious that the number of families grieving the sudden, unexpected demise of their loved ones is also rising. The protocols in place for COVID-related deaths, only magnify the emotional burden, with families not being able to bid their loved ones a dignified farewell.
In a culturally rich country like India, where rituals of cremation and burial are an essential means of offering final respects to the departed souls, most families are unable to come to terms with the loss of their loved ones.
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With the nation collectively working towards curbing the physical effects of the coronavirus infection, it is high time that these psychological effects of the pandemic also receive their due attention. Especially given their severe impact on the quality of life of people. Undergoing structured therapy or counseling sessions can enable one to feel empowered enough to take control of the situation and engage their own inner strengths towards finding solutions.
The stigma associated with seeking mental health services is slowly fading in our country as more and more celebrities and prominent personalities are talking about their battle with mental illnesses.
Seeking timely psychological support from trained mental health professionals such as certified/ licensed counselors and clinical psychologists can help one achieve premorbid levels of functioning again. I reiterate. One must also take care to reach out to licensed and qualified practitioners, as they are trained in evidence-based therapy techniques to deal with problems on a wide spectrum, ranging from everyday stress, all the way upto diagnosable psychological conditions.