As we all know, we are going through the most difficult times, not only in India but across the globe, because of the emergence of a novel severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus. This virus is highly contagious. China observed it first on Dec 19 & now has spread across 137 countries. WHO also declared it as the Pandemic on January 30, 2020.
As discussed above, it first got detected in China in December 2019, and since this virus is highly transmissible, mainly through the air travel has spread across continents, affecting many countries from Europe, America, and Asia. This disease is highly transmissible with human & surface contacts. So, as an immediate measure, many countries had to implement total lockdown to prevent further transmission. World over, people were confiscated to remain at home. Different kinds of home quarantine strategies were applied.
These measures & this fast-spreading virus have caused awareness, anxiety, and distress. These are natural responses to the changing condition. If the Pandemic is not controlled soon, these psychological problems will be on the rise & constant communications on different platforms will increase it further.
Increasing trend in the cases & constant communication has caused fast-expanding panic regarding COVID-19 & may impact on long-lasting, psychological problems in the society. This could impact society as a whole & can be more harmful for mental illness than the virus itself. Therefore, it is need of the hour to decide the various possible ways in which this pandemic will be impacting the psychological & mental health of mankind & decide actions to mitigate the same.
Let us now evaluate how psychosocial & mental health problems caused by COVID-19 affect different segments of our society.
“Corona positive”- A Stigma?
At present, in India, being Corona positive is a big stigma in our society because of its transmissibility & this creates fear of isolation, racism, discrimination. A stigmatized people because of fear of isolation, tend to hesitate to take immediate medical help.
People will try to hide medical information & pretend to behave as normal in society, which poses the risk of community transmission & also create social & economic problems. There are instances of some health crime originated, due to fear of getting declared as corona positive in India.
Psycho-social Burden of Quarantine and Isolation
As a proactive step, many countries have implemented early quarantine measures to control transmission. In the previous outbreaks like Ebola & swine flu, it was observed that quarantining makes psychological impacts. Initially, it develops a fear of contracting and spreading infection within family members. It further gets aggravated into the effects like frustration, anxiety & depression over a period of time. In some of the extreme cases, this may lead to suicide.
Netizens, Social media, and COVID-19
Nowadays, online social networks (OSN) can potentially give information on the ground, which can become a useful tool to track a pandemic and if required for communicating the necessary information. But, at the same time this, can also have some disastrous effects if misinformation is spread. In the haste of getting popularity, some misinformation is spread which in turn will increase the fear in common people.
“Psychosocial impact on Medical staff and frontline workers”
Since this is a new virus, very little data & information is available & even health care personnel have limited knowledge about the disease. This creates stress, fear, and anxiety. This can also impact the other front-line workers like bankers, policemen, armed forces, etc. Since health workers are directly exposed to the COVID-19 cases in hospital, they understand the lethality of the virus & it affects badly on their mental health. There are about 48 various types of psychologically stressful events related to “seeing the traumatized patients”. We could observe it during the current Pandemic.
Effects on different sections of society – Obviously there are different sections of the society, who are affected by COVID 19, in different ways, like
Children –No schools, continuous information about virus awareness around, worried elderly people in the family are some of the factors which may impact fundamental for lifetime behavior. Adolescence is a critical phase for children’s intellective, inner and psychological development.
Old age people – So far we have a data-based information from the ICMR that elderly people with comorbidities like BP, Diabetes are more vulnerable to COVID-19 & this can create considerable fear amongst them. Secondly, the younger family caretaking members are worried about morbid elderly members for the same reason.
Migrating workers – Since these people cannot afford basic hygiene conditions & since the environment around them is not safe & hygienic, these groups of people feel deprived, neglected and segregated. Furthermore, immigrants have a fear of being seen as a potential virus carrier by the rest of the society members. Since these migrants do not have proper accommodation measures like self-isolation, increased hygiene, home-confinement, are not feasible for them & this also creates a panic & chronic mental illness.
We may have to face problems of mental illness because of other pandemics soon. Thus, the experience gained from the present pandemic in view of psychological and social preparedness carries high importance. This experience is of prime importance to decide further actions
The government & other stakeholders must take into consideration the experience of handling this pandemic to decide policies to take care of psychosocial needs. Following are some of them
a) Make use of the data on fatalities, administrative structure, to improve further
b) Form a special task force that will study & suggest actions to erase the stigma associated with the disease, racism, etc.
c) Setting up mental health organization specifically for the future pandemics with branches across the nations
d) Social media to be used for the right purpose to make people aware & informed but strict legislation, regarding unauthentic news, rumors and about misguiding people, to be made & enforced.
e) Usage of computer applications Like Arogyasetu and toll-free helpline numbers may be launched for reducing fear due to lack of information, regarding this ongoing pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has opened our eyes & made us realize how badly a “virus” can impact human beings across the globe. Everybody across the world now knows the importance of health, love & solidarity. This pandemic has made us understand this, this is a great learning for all of us.