Co-author: Shaily Tibrewala
4 min read
In the past months, measures taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus have led to greater isolation and severe financial distress for many. Researchers are warning that these measures could inflict long-lasting emotional trauma, and have an undeniable impact on mental health. As nations slowly recover from the pandemic, it will be important to ensure mental health impacts are taken into account. In fact, the effect of augmented stress in past epidemics and natural catastrophes has been proven to have long-term disastrous consequences.
This article aims to open a conversation on the reasons for increased stress and how each individual can contribute to the solution.
A survey conducted in Germany amidst the lockdown, indicated a mean well-being score of 50.7 out of 100 and many reported several distresses. For normal individuals the mean well-being score is 75.
|Reported increased levels of irritation||Reported worsened sleep||Reported experiencing more anger and aggression|
Experience from past epidemics also indicate that this impact on mental health is likely to persist in the medium to long term. For instance, in an evaluation of mental health status among SARS survivors in Hong Kong, 47.8% experienced post-traumatic stress disorder of which 25.6% lasted for 30 months after complete treatment for the virus.
Underlying factors contributing to higher mental health burden
While many factors increase stress, four key aspects deserve a special mention:
- Continued health concerns: SNEHA, a non-profit operating in a Mumbai epicentre of COVID-19 cases, observed a high degree of stigma associated with those who have contracted the disease. Frontline workers are amongst the hardest hit, being not only at a high risk of infection but also often already overworked.
- Breakdown of support systems due to long-term isolation: Human beings tend to rely on support systems and networks. However, lockdown norms have had a negative impact on these coping systems, rendering them less efficient against stress.
- Economic fallout: A considerable number of people have seen a direct financial hit because of the lockdown. The current economic situation has led to anxiety for fear of losing one’s job, pay cuts, delays in evaluations, etc.
- Rise in abuse: Victims living in confined spaces with their abusers have been less able to seek help or escape their abuser. The National Commission for Women, which receives reports from across India, has recorded a more than twofold rise in gender-based violence during the lockdown.
How to best manage stress and its consequences post-lockdown
The social systems that provide individuals and the larger society with coping mechanisms for the psychological distress brought on by the pandemic can be rebuilt. Individuals can follow a two-step process.
Identify signs of stress
Many digital tools already exist to help us identify signs of stress. Wysa uses therapy-based practices and activities to help users manage their mental health. TrustCircle uses AI-driven Social Emotional Learning programs to self-reflect & journal, recognize & manage one’s emotions, and seek help remotely.
No one is alone in the battle for mental health and it is important to seek help from mental health professionals when needed. United for Global Mental Health lists free helplines available globally for support on mental health issues and abuse. Additionally, new age mental health apps such as Sanvello and YourDost offer free access to their resources during the pandemic.
Private and philanthropic actors important to make mental healthcare accessible to all
Private and philanthropic sector initiatives have a great role to play in helping scale community-based interventions.
In fact, training community health workers to detect and treat mental health issues offers a scalable model. Several non-profits have already been able to use digital tools to train health workers and could offer sustainable solutions. Project Echo creates a virtual community of learners by bringing together healthcare providers and subject matter experts using videoconference technology.
Similarly, Atmiyata has been providing COVID-19 specific counselling and training to volunteers. Strengthening such community-based models will be key to act as a larger-scale coping mechanism.
We are undoubtedly facing one of the greatest healthcare and economic crisis of our times. While these few examples are a start to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on mental health, there is no doubt that we will need more coordinated action to tackle this issue on a larger scale. Creating a mentally strong community will remain an important part in helping our societies slowly recover.