Psychological impactof Covid-19 pandemic and the possible way out

Aroosa Mattoo

In late December 2019, pneumonia-like cases appeared in the city of Wuhan, Hubeiprovince in China and the causal agent was found to be a virus. This virus was named as severe acute respiratory syndrome-corona virus 2 (SARS-coV-2), as it is considered as the novel version of SARS-coV previously reported from China in 2003. Corona virus is a single-stranded RNA virus belonging to coronaviridae family. The name ‘corona’ was derived from crown-like spikes present on the envelope of the virus. On 30th January 2020, World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the outbreak of corona virus disease an international public health emergency when the disease disseminated across 34 regions in mainland China and surpassed that of SARS-coV in 2003. Currently, it has reached almost every corner of the globe affecting 213 countries and territories world over. On 11 February 2020, WHO in collaboration with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) announced the official name of the pandemic as “COVID-19” where CO stands for ‘corona’, VI for ‘virus’, D for ‘disease’ and 19 for the year of emergence. Although, corona viruses reported earlier were more lethal, yet their transmission rate was less in comparison to SARS-coV-2.
COVID-19 has resulted in a widespread transition in the lifestyle since its arrival. Allthe countries reacted in different ways to combat with this pandemic from testing of foreign arrivals to complete lockdown. However, curtailment of daily activities created fear and panic among the population. The frontline workers including healthcare workers, researchers, administrators, police and sanitary workers are at higher risk in comparison to those who can stay inside.National and international health organisations, global media, opinion-makers, epidemiologists, virologists etcetra put out information, recommendations, minute by minute updates on the transmission and lethality of SARS-coV-2. According to United Nations Framework for the immediate Socio-economic Response to COVID-19 Crisis, “This pandemic is far more than a health crisis.” It has affected mankind globally across societies, gender, and age groups. Whole country, including J&K UT, has been under continuous lockdown for almost three months to stop the chain spread of Corona virus and minimize the burden on the healthcare facility. Its consequences have been observed on livelihood, economy, education and environment.
WHO in its guidelines on “Mental health and psychosocial consideration during COVID-19 outbreak”, revealed that the current pandemic resulted in numerous psychological problems among the general public particularly the vulnerable sections of the society which include healthcare workers, children, women, old and sick individuals. The common psychological problems include stress, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, depression, post-traumatic disorder (PSTD), psychosis etc. According to a survey conducted by American Psychiatric Association, nearly half of the individuals were found to be anxious. People who lost their loved ones due to current outbreak are the biggest victims. Those in quarantine are experiencing boredom, loneliness, guilt, shame or stigma. Various reports suggest that longer period of quarantine is linked with increased PSTD prevalence leading to depressive symptoms. The condition is worse for the ones with pre-existing mental health complications. According to a study conducted by the Department of Psychiatry, ILBS, New Delhi, India, ‘Covid-19 pandemic is linked with fear of falling sick, hopelessness, helplessness, and domestic violence’. In another study it is reported that “Suicide cases in India are increasing day by day mostly due to fear of being covid-19 positive”. With the cessation of various services and closure of work industries, many individuals incur financial losses and run the risk of unemployment, which is potentially triggering off a mental breakdown.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by United Nations General Assembly in 2015 as a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all” to be achieved by the year 2030, seems more difficult to be accomplished. COVID-19 is most likely to escalate the poverty and inequalities while worsening the health conditions at a global scale. Amidst current crisis, the priorities are changed and the SDGs regarding health parameters must be considered crucial with immediate action. There is a dire need to focus equally on mental health along with other health aspects. The question to be addressed is what could be the possible way out to these psychological complications? Awareness and counselling programs through large scale campaigning among the general public are of utmost importance. Apart from this, following measures should be taken for mental well-being to overcome the psychological distress caused by this pandemic.
· Resilience: Sudden catastrophe always shaken up the mind-set, but one should always try to be resilient and accept the current situation. Additional activities are not the requisite to satisfaction, soaking up in the existing ones is the key to happiness. One must try to find opportunity in adversity. Doing something which one is good at can build the self-confidence and inculcate tranquillity.
· Optimism: According to Aristotle Onassis, “It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light”. We must bear in mind that the beacon of light at the end of the dark tunnel is always a great thing to cherish, so must believe in that beacon of light to arrive. The most important way out of the negative psychological implications of this pandemic is to be positive at any cost.
· Physical exercise: Apart from physical fitness, exercise has positive impact on emotional well-being. Regular exercise can increase the level of happy hormones viz., dopamine (feel good hormone) and serotonin, and promote the positive feelings, like happiness and pleasure.
· Laughing therapy: Research has shown that the health benefits of laughter are far-ranging. There is an old saying “Laughter is the biggest medicine”. It can help relieve stress or anxiety, bring greater happiness, and even increase immunity. It reduces stress by decreasing the level of cortisol (stress-hormone), elevates dopamine and endorphins (body’s natural feel good chemicals).
· Spend time with loved ones: Prior to this pandemic, everyone used to be busy in their chores. Consider this pandemic as a “blessing in disguise” to be with the ones we love and care for. Surrounded by the dear ones increases oxytocin (love hormone), and enhance our mental wellbeing.
· Nature and mental wellness: Nature is remedy to all the mental disorders. Everyone finds solace in the lap of nature. Research shows that being close to nature can increase energy levels and immunity while downturns the depression.
· Use of social media and mass media: Avoidance of physical contacts and maintenance of social contacts is vital via social media to stay connected with dear ones. It can decrease loneliness and anxiety of the people. Watching comedy and spreading the jokes can prove beneficial. Keep yourself updated with the right content but avoid fake and negative content available on social media platforms. WHO recommendations also suggest to minimize watching, reading or listening to news about COVID-19 that causes you to feel anxious or distressed.
· Proper nutrition and adequate sleep: Eat properly and consciously to boost your immunity. Add some omego-3 fatty acids to your diet which is correlated with the decreased rate of depression and schizophrenia. Adequate sleep adds to immunity and relieves stress.
· Creativity and mindfulness: Creative expression and overall wellness are connected. Divert your mind and engage yourself in fruitful activities. Creation of music, poetry, drawing, painting, writing, etc., makes the release of endorphins, thereby amplify the positive emotions.

Role of government and other authorities:
Assessing the impact of COVID-19 on health, societies, economies and environment is fundamental to recover from the crisis, and create a “new normal” for mental well-being in the future. Without immediate responses from the government and non-government organisations (NGOs), sufferings will escalate, jeopardizing lives and livelihoods at global level. Also, it’s the high time for proper implementation of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 which aims to provide mental healthcare services for persons with mental illness and to protect, promote and fulfil their rights. It also gives rights like access to affordable, free treatment to mental health patients below poverty line. Recently, the Secretary General of United Nations urged the governments, civil society, health authorities and others to come together urgently to address the mental health dimension of Covid-19. There is a compelling need to have a nation-wide psychological intervention plan to combat with the grave psychological consequences of this pandemic. We must stand together in the fight against Covid-19 pandemic by helping each other and stay optimistic as every tide has its fall.
Aroosa Mattoo is a PhD Scholar
Department of Botany, University of Jammu