Friday 30th April 2021

Is mental health the 'real pandemic'?

As explained by the World Health Organisation, mental health is "that state of well-being in which a person recognizes his or her capacity, can cope with normal life pressures, can function productively and can contribute to their community." But it's more than a description, and it's more than a sensation. Covid-19 has put our mental well-being to the test and brought out emotions that we had sought to suppress in our daily life.

Public health emergencies may affect the health, safety, and well-being of both individuals (causing, for example, insecurity, confusion, emotional isolation, and stigma) and communities (owing to economic loss, work and school closures, inadequate resources for medical response, and deficient distribution of necessities). These effects may translate into a range of emotional reactions (such as distress or psychiatric conditions), unhealthy behaviours (such as excessive substance use), and noncompliance with public health directives (such as home confinement and vaccination) in people who contract the disease and in the general population. Extensive research in disaster mental health has established that emotional distress is ubiquitous in affected populations — a finding certain to be echoed in populations affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones. Many people may be facing increased levels of alcohol and drug use, insomnia, and anxiety. Fear of losing livelihood and going out, insecurity for oneself and loved ones, stigma towards people with symptoms of cold and cough, and a compulsive need to hoard groceries are some of the instances which are impacting people’s mental health. Those with any previous mental health illnesses are especially vulnerable to these effects. Psychological crisis intervention in India is much in need.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 itself can lead to neurological and mental complications, such as delirium, agitation, and stroke. People with pre-existing mental, neurological or substance use disorders are also more vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 infection ̶ they may stand a higher risk of severe outcomes and even death.

According to the report published in the journal Psychiatry Research, the pandemic has been particularly challenging for young people around the world. It has harmed their mental health, resulting in higher levels of clinical depression. Researchers from the University of Surrey conducted this one-of-a-kind analysis. They surveyed 259 young people on their levels of depression, anxiety, well-being, alcohol consumption, and sleep quality before the pandemic (autumn 2019) and after the initial lockdown steps (May/June 2020). The results revealed a substantial increase in depressive symptoms as well as a decrease in overall happiness. Furthermore, clinical depression has more than doubled in the last year, increasing from 14.9 percent in autumn 2019 to 34.7 percent in May/June 2020. "For several years, there has been an increase in the number of young people experiencing mental health issues, and it is worrying to see that this has been greatly exacerbated due to Covid-19," said Dr. Simon Evans, Lecturer in Neuroscience at the University of Surrey.

"It is important to promote young people's mental health and ensure that they have access to the resources they need to ensure their overall well-being. However, as a result of the ongoing social constraints imposed in reaction to the pandemic, we must take action to safeguard their mental health," Dr. Evans concluded.

The number of adults in the UK experiencing depression is doubled since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Office for National Statistics, the survey was carried out over 12 months. It revealed that one in five people appear to have depressive symptoms compared to one in ten before Covid-19 hit. Among those who were most likely to suffer have been women and people under the age of 40 and those with a disability. More than three and a half thousand adults were interrogated with some fundamental questions, often used to assess depression in the subject. They answered how often they experienced a range of symptoms, including changing their sleep patterns, appetite, loss of interest in daily activities, or difficulty concentrating. Many reported high levels of stress or anxiety.

Health care providers are also particularly vulnerable to emotional distress in the current pandemic, given their risk of exposure to the virus, concern about infecting and caring for their loved ones, shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), longer work hours, and involvement in emotionally and ethically fraught resource-allocation decisions. Prevention efforts such as screening for mental health problems, psychoeducation, and psychosocial support should focus on these and other groups at risk for adverse psychosocial outcomes.

Beyond stresses inherent in the illness itself, mass home-confinement directives (including stay-at-home orders, quarantine, and isolation) are new to Americans and raise concern about how people will react individually and collectively. A recent review of psychological sequelae in samples of quarantined people and of health care providers may be instructive; it revealed numerous emotional outcomes, including stress, depression, irritability, insomnia, fear, confusion, anger, frustration, boredom, and stigma associated with quarantine, some of which persisted after the quarantine was lifted. Specific stressors included greater duration of confinement, having inadequate supplies, difficulty securing medical care and medications, and resulting financial losses.2 In the current pandemic, the home confinement of large swaths of the population for indefinite periods, differences among the stay-at-home orders issued by various jurisdictions, and conflicting messages from government and public health authorities will most likely intensify distress. A study conducted in communities affected by severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in the early 2000s revealed that although community members, affected individuals, and health care workers were motivated to comply with quarantine to reduce the risk of infecting others and to protect the community’s health, emotional distress tempted some to consider violating their orders.

Speaking from a more personal perspective, some of my friends don't get along with their parents and feel lost, despite a large family. Forcing us to share a home with someone with whom we have a strained relationship may negatively affect our mental well-being, and this is what happens to people who don't get along with their families. The lockdown was also a trying time for me. I can't speak for everybody, but I can tell you about my own experience. Lockdown brought to light several long-buried unresolved problems. Constant overthinking and mood swings were routine, rendering me unproductive; I couldn't concentrate on anything, and even when studying, I was easily distracted by my thoughts. I never imagined I'd have to deal with this because I'd built up my strength over the years and learned to deal with it before one day, I had a complete emotional breakdown. It was the lowest point of my lockdown, and it was then that I told my mother about my feelings. Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with clinical depression later (June/July 2020). I'm doing fine now, but some days are still difficult, but I'm doing my best. Keeping a good schedule, eating well, going for brisk walks, and having a hobby are very beneficial. I hope that everyone becomes more sensitive and kinder towards each other because of the many unknown battles that people must face every day.The data stated above and the scenarios studied to confirm that there's an increasingly large number of people experiencing mental health problems. For the first time, almost as a direct or possibly the indirect consequence of covid. Fear, worry, and stress are normal responses to perceived or real threats, and at times when we are faced with uncertainty or the unknown. So, it is normal and understandable that people are experiencing fear in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thus, those people must be able to access the help and support they need. Added to the fear of contracting the virus in a pandemic such as COVID-19 are the significant changes to our daily lives as our movements are restricted in support of efforts to contain and slow down the spread of the virus. Faced with new realities of working from home, temporary unemployment, home-schooling of children, and lack of physical contact with other family members, friends and colleagues, it is important that we look after our mental health.