• By Professor A. P. DASH
All most all the nations in the world are currently suffering from the unparalleled impact of the disastrous COVID-19 outbreak. Public health emergencies often generate fear and lead to a spectrum of psychological consequences. The mental health impacts of any such event may penetrate deeper beyond mere physical impacts. It may lead to mental health problems like disturbed sleep, fear, extreme sadness and exhaustion, anxiety, stress, depression and many others. These begin in the early stages of the disaster, often lasting for a long time and create multifaceted effects on the individual. The secondary economic stressors due to loss of property, loss of job, evacuation from home, isolation, disruption of essential services and concern over personal health are the core reasons for the persistence of these symptoms.
The physical and mental health effects varies with age, gender, prior experience, socioeconomic status, family structure, severity, secondary stressors, pre-disaster psychiatric history, personality and presence of various psycho-social resources.
Mental health is the most precious asset, not only for the individuals but also for nations and communities, and should be prioritised in the same way as physical health. Body and mind are the two parts of the same holistic system of human beings. What affects the body affects the mind and vice versa.
Changes in one are reflected on the other. World Health Organisation defined mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes her or his own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community” (WHO, 2004).
As social organisms, humans beings are always connected with others and the physical isolation due to COVID 19 have ignited the feelings of fear, anxiety and loneliness in many individuals. These are potential risk factor for depression and suicidal behaviour. Stress can disrupt the harmony in the family and lead to frustration, aggression and interpersonal conflict among the family members. The lack of physical and social support from friends and others in such a situation can make the situation worse. Issues like these can lead to violence and abuse in the family (Dong & Bouey, 2020).
New measures such as quarantine and social distancing have adversely affected the usual activities and livelihoods of people. Unemployment, work from home, online classes and lack of physical contact with friends and colleagues have brought about significant changes in our daily lives along with the fear of contracting the virus. Also, the mental health of vulnerable groups like elderly, children, and persons with disabilities, pregnant women, health care providers and people with health conditions requires special consideration (Shah et al., 2020; World Health Organization, 2020).
In uncertain situations like this, it is important to effectively manage mental health. There are lots of things that can be done to take care of our mental health. It is important to protect ourselves and offer support and care to others. It is important to take breaks from news which makes us troubled. It is equally important to stay connected with our family, friends and significant others through various available means. If the stress becomes so taxing, that it hinders our daily activities, we should seek help from a professional who can assist us in this difficult situation.
Even when the pandemic is contained, the mental health issues such as anxiety and depression still continue to affect people as a post-traumatic shock. Hence, it is important to take care of yourself and your loved ones. Fortunately, there are lots of things that we can do to look after our own mental health and to help others who may need some extra support and care.
Some of the following tips may help to maintain better mental health during this challenging situation.
• Keep informed- Listen to advice and recommendations from your national and local authorities. Follow trusted news channels, such as local and national TV and radio, and keep up-to-date with the latest news from trusted resources or Government.
• Have a routine- Keep up with daily routines as far as possible, or make new ones.
• Minimize newsfeeds- Try to reduce how much you watch, read or listen to news that makes you feel anxious or distressed. Seek the latest information at specific times of the day, once or twice a day if needed.
• Reading books, listening to music, watching entertaining programmes in television or online, gardening, painting etc. can keep you positive and occupied. These activities will help in side tracking your negative thoughts and emotions.
• Doing simple indoor exercises will keep you physically active and fit. Regular exercises will boost your self-esteem and also helps to keep you alert and focus. It keeps your brain active and other important organs healthy, which in turn improves your mental health too.
• Take extra care of older people and children at home.
• Keep the children at home occupied by giving them some work which makes them feel responsible, and help them learn new skills. Listen to them and reassure them. Give them the attention they need and involve them in various indoor activities and games to bring down their boredom. Online classes and new learning process may make them anxious. Encourage them to talk to their friends and do activities together.
• Stay connected with friends and family members. Loneliness can have adverse effects on our mental health. Communicating with significant others through calls, messages and video calls will be helpful. Talking with your loved ones and sharing your concerns and feelings can make you less stressful.
• Avoid unhealthy habits and coping mechanisms such as alcohol, tobacco and drug use, as they may actually worsen the physical and mental health and aggravate problems.
• Set a routine: Keep a simple routine with a wake-up time and goals for the day. Keeping a routine is an important thing for everyone.
• Eat and Drink well – our brain needs nutrients to function well and to stay healthy. Food that we eat and our feelings and strongly connected. It is important to follow a balanced diet that’s good for our physical and mental health.
• Talk – talking about your concerns and feelings is a healthy way to cope with your problems. Sharing it with someone can help you feel less anxious and less alone.
• Check mental health problems in yourself and in your loved ones. Recognise if there is any change in sleep patterns and schedule, increase in use of alcohol and other drugs, loss of appetite, difficulty in concentrating or staying alert, health problems, suicidal ideation etc. Provide help and support to them and if the problems worsen, contact a health care provider/therapist.
Handle your emotional problems and calm down your mind through breathing exercises, yoga or meditation. Relaxation exercises and/or prayer will improve our state of mind and help to feel calm. There is a strong connection between spirituality and mental health. Make use of International Day of Yoga. Different aspects of spirituality can be helpful in reducing depression and anxiety and in increasing the overall wellbeing of a person. Spirituality elicits a sense of hope which acts as a protective factor throughout the life. It creates a meaning to life and a sense of purpose to live. People who engage in spiritual practices have better hope, confidence, self-esteem and self-control.
Even though the challenges made to the mental health of people by the COVID 19 is huge and long lasting, through the promotion of positive mental health through various psycho-social measures and integrative practices like yoga and meditation it may be possible to reduce the impact to the minimum possible extent.
Author is Vice Chancellor of Central University of Tamil Nadu