EXCLUSIVE: Expert approved tips on tackling mental health during COVID 19

The Coronavirus, despite being a virus that affects the physical health of individuals, is also known to have severe implications on mental health. In fact, it would not be wrong to call it a mental health pandemic too.
EXCLUSIVE: Expert approved tips on tackling mental health during COVID 19 EXCLUSIVE: Expert approved tips on tackling mental health during COVID 19
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There are various fronts on which Covid has been affecting the mental health of people, be it changes in lifestyle, being devoid of routine, unforeseen stress on work front for the medical staff and the grief of loss of their loved ones. It is no secret that the body and mind are strongly interlinked. The neurochemicals, along with the body hormones as well as the immune system play an important role in the body-mind link. When an individual undergoes significant distress, it can disturb the fine balance amongst these neurochemicals, hormones, and the immune system and hence negatively impact both the body and the mind.

There are also mental health issues arising out of the necessary social distancing measures and lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus. This heightened anxiety and depression amongst people are also associated with the slowdown of the economy. In order to deal with these issues, it would be a good idea to first assess the types of effects Covid-19 can have on mental health of individuals.

Sickness: 

Those patients who are being treated in the ICU at times suffer from disorientation, paranoia, fearfulness, due to underlying disturbance in metabolic parameters like sodium and potassium. Being away from family members, and witnessing medical staff treating in PPE kits make them barely recognisable. Moreover, the severity of sickness around them can add to the fear factor.

Those individuals, who have just recovered from the Covid-19 infection, are dealing with symptoms such as anxiety, generalized weakness and fatigue also known as post-viral fatigue syndrome, brain fog, and disturbed concentration. Some of the people who have been administered steroids as a part of the treatment of the Covid infection are also developing mood swings, irritability, and have hallucinatory experiences described as seeing or hearing what others cannot.

Loss and grief:

A great loss of lives has ensued with the pandemic, leaving people grappling with a deep sense of grief due to the loss of their loved ones coupled with a feeling of helplessness upon seeing the affected family member in distress. The second wave of Covid that struck the country has added to this distress as people are at a loss because of not being able to organise the required support systems such as ICU beds, oxygen cylinders, medication etc in a timely manner, thereby resulting in significant anxiety and depression.

Disruption of education: 

Children and adolescents have been impacted globally due to uncertainty of their education system as well as social isolation. Commenting on the situation, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay has said that “the global scale and speed of the current educational disruption is unparalleled”. The absence of a structured routine can also impact children with special needs significantly. There is uncertainty about school and college examinations, ambivalence with respect to careers and movement to pursue courses/career options out of their hometowns or even countries. Children also suffer due to a lack of a structured schedule. Teenagers are experiencing a vastly disturbed sleep-wake cycle due to excessive online gaming, excessive mobile use and screen time. They are also showing irritability, emotional upheaval, indulging in drug abuse, and have feelings of disinterest or aimlessness.

Lifestyle alteration and adult behavioural issues: 

Due to the great economic slowdown, certain businesses have collapsed and there has been huge economic loss accompanied by stress and anxiety. Due to heightened emotional expressions of anger, interference and criticism, there are growing incidents of marital and family discord. Excessive consumption of negative news is additionally contributing to feelings of despair, anxiety, emotional trauma, helplessness, apprehensions, sleeplessness, and nightmares. People are also undergoing significant obsessions (repetitive doubts/ intrusive irresistible thoughts) and compulsions (repetitive behaviours), health anxiety, disturbed sleep-wake cycle, panic anxiety, depression, angst, adjustment problems, depression, and phobias.

Stress on medical and paramedical staff: 

The pandemic has put significant stress on all medical and paramedical staff and all frontline workers who are getting physically and emotionally drained. Seeing so much unprecedented suffering, uncertainty, managing crisis, staying away from their families, and donning PPEs for long hours are all factors that add to their stress.

To address all of the above problems and support the mental health of fellow human beings, the following guidance and advice can come in handy:

  • Mental and physical health concerns should be dealt with timely and appropriately.
  • There is a pressing need to substantially increase the number of hospital beds, oxygen supply, oxygen concentrator, ventilator beds and availability of vaccines in both public and private health sector.
  • A ‘solution-based approach’ needs to be followed in order to develop an attitude to tackles things positively.
  • Avoiding or limiting excessive negative news consumption.
  • Following self-discipline and maintaining a routine.

  • Limiting screen time of children and adolescents.
  • Countering any negative thoughts of grudges, negative comparisons, or helplessness with positive thoughts and gestures of empathy, support, and logical reasoning.
  • One must also try to avoid negative judgements about themselves and others. This will in turn avoid negative drain of energy.
  • Mobilising all available resources in a positive direction and positive manner.
  • Try to follow a healthy balanced lifestyle; avoid drug abuse; try taking out time for some physical exercise, yogic exercises, pranayam (breathing exercises). Follow a balanced diet schedule. Try to sleep on time and follow sleep hygiene. Do take out time for engaging in some constructive/ healthy hobby and for relaxation.
  • Avoid panic buying and hoarding. Such behaviour causes an unnecessary shortage of supplies to others around you who may need them more than you do.
  • If you are feeling unwell, follow your doctor’s advice. Try to reach out and don’t be shy from seeking appropriate and timely psychiatric advice if required.

And lastly but most importantly try to keep faith and hope alive and develop a helpful attitude.

About the author: Dr Sameer Malhotra is a Senior Consultant Psychiatrist and Drug Deaddiction, specialist Director, Department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Max hospitals – Saket and Panchsheel Park. 

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