COVID-19 pandemic and maintaining mental health

Hearing disaster news continuously may cause fear and anxiety among some people. (Representative image)

With the number of COVID-10 affected people as well as deaths rising steadily around the world, India is moving from the second stage (local transmission) to the verge of third stage (community spread) of the pandemic. People are continuosly listening to the updates of tolls and cases and get cencerned about the spread.

In such a situation it is important for the society to maintain confidence and give due attention to mental health. In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued guidelines on mental health in the time of corona. Based on these instructions, we can implement many measures in Kerala for the psychological well-being of the people here.

Two major issues emerge when an epidemic spreads from one country to another. They are stigma and xenophobia. COVID-19 first spread in China before it travelled to Europe and spread the infection there. We should not attribute the disease to any particular country or race. Many countries in Europe, including Italy, are now in the fourth stage of the disease (epidemic with no clear endpoint).

Never brand patients as a ‘COVID-19 case’, ‘victim’ or their relatives as ‘COVID-19 family’ as they are members of the society which we too are part of. Moreover, these isolated people would return to mainstream society after they recover.

Continous flow of alarming news alerts

If you are unable to focus on your work or daily activities hearing the constant depressing news regarding corona virus, you are likely to develop depression or anxiety disorders. However, there are several solutions for this. Some of them are:

» Avoid following social media or watching news channels all the time. Take a break from the media. Check the news and social media only at specific intervals. After watching the news for a short period in the morning, start your daily regular activities. Later, switch on the media only at lunchtime. Hearing disaster news continuously may cause fear and anxiety among some people. This can lead to panic attack, mild depressive episode or anxiety disorder.

» Depend on authoritative sources for information, including the WHO website, releases from the Health Department and mainstream media quoting authoritative sources. Do not believe rumours or propaganda.

» Share inspiring news and facts, including experiences of COVID-19 survivors and those kept in quarantine. For instance, a youth from Thodupuzha named Lino could not attend his father’s funeral as he was in quarantine at Kottayam Medical College Hospital. After his stay in isolation, Lino visited his father’s grave days after the funeral and lighted candles. Such incidents influence society and replace fear with hope.

Instructions for people taking regular medicines

» Do not skip your medicine for psychiatric conditions. Also ensure proper sleep and nutritious food. The condition of people suffering from long-term diseases such as depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or OCD may worsen if they experience stress and sleeplessness.

» If any person kept in quarantine takes prescription drugs for psychiatric diseases, Health personnel need to be informed. Medicines would be made available for them through the District Mental Health Programme (DMHP).

» Studies have shown that use of addictive substances, including alcohol, shoots up during natural disasters and epidemics. If any patient taking regular medicine resorts to substance abuse, seek the help of a psychiatrist.

» Withdrawal symptoms shown by people in the habit of having alcohol is another major health issue. This occurs when alcohol suddenly becomes unavailable. In this situation also consult a psychiatrist because withdrawal symptoms may lead to fatal conditions such as Delirium tremens.

Tips for those in quarantine

» People remaining isolated have been seen to experience mild depression, extreme anxiety, panic attack, sleeplessness, lack of hunger, remorse, lethargy, excessive anger and various addictions. If any of these symptoms are felt even mildly, inform the Health authorities.

» Even though quarantine curtails our freedom, remember that it is done as a social duty. Such positive thoughts can help us overcome depression.

» The mind becomes stress-free and gets filled with positive thoughts if you read some good books, watch movies that you always wanted to see but could not find time, engaging in small crafts and embroidery work.

» People in quarantine should be aware that they are engaged in a noble task for the cause of humanity. When they realize their responsibility, the mind would become calm.

(The author is consultant psychiatrist, General Hospital, Kalpetta)