July 11, 2020
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As World Grapples With Coronavirus, Psychologists Fear Massive Toll On People's Mental Health

Mental health experts say it’s an unprecedented situation and it’s imperative we stay positive and calm. It’s natural that some people may undergo psychological and behavioural changes in the face of isolation.

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As World Grapples With Coronavirus, Psychologists Fear Massive Toll On People's Mental Health
People standing in the marked boxes for social distancing at Medical store during a 21-day nationwide lockdown in the wake of coronavirus pandemic, in Mumbai.
Apoorva Salkade/Outlook
As World Grapples With Coronavirus, Psychologists Fear Massive Toll On People's Mental Health
outlookindia.com
2020-03-26T13:44:43+0530

Until two weeks ago, Delhi-based entrepreneur Sanjay Malhotra ran a successful textile manufacturing business with over 100 employees. But the outbreak of deadly Coronavirus and three-week nationwide lockdown to combat it has changed everything for him. Faced with massive losses, Malhotra’s manufacturing units are on the verge of closure. His life is far from normal and he fears he is sinking into severe depression.

Malhotra’s case, though, is not an isolated one. With the fear of spread of the virus and lockdown measures wreaking havoc on economy and other sectors, COVID-19 has plunged the world into uncertainty. As people grapple with panic in the face of a massive healthcare crisis, psychologists and therapists fear all this may take a toll on people’s mental health.

Mental health experts say it’s an unprecedented situation and it’s imperative we stay positive and calm. It’s natural that some people may undergo psychological and behavioural changes in the face of isolation. This will manifest in the form of depression, anxiety and other disorders, they say.

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Nimesh G Desai, Psychiatrist and Director at the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), Delhi, asks everyone to take a step back and take charge of their mental health.

“People always lament about having no ‘me time’. Now, that you have plenty of time, use it creatively. Live in the moment and channelise your energy in an innovative way. Explore new ideas, hobbies and stay afloat,” Desai told Outlook.

“We are currently dealing with a crisis. Seek help if you need and foster more positive attitude,” says Desai, adding that it’s important to refrain from negative thoughts.

Staying connected is the golden rule in these uncertain times, says Dr Nand Kumar, professor of Psychiatry, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi. He also believes that keeping all communication channel open is a must as social distancing leads to stigma at times. “It’s important to be in touch with your loved ones and friends through video call or what’s app. Support system is very important whether its social support or emotional one,” says Kumar.

For Indu Kapoor, a single mother of two, the lockdown means more chaos. Kapoor juggles between house chores and office work, with an additional responsibility of looking after her in-laws. With no help at hand, Kapoor says her mental and physical health has gone for a toss.

Maintaining a daily routine goes a long way to cope with the crisis, say psychologists. Tanushree Sangma, psychologist, Fortis hospital, Vasant Vihar, advises everyone not to fret about situations which are not within one’s control. “It’s challenging time for everyone. It’s a good time to divide responsibilities among family members. It will reduce emotional and physical burnout,” Sangma told Outlook. She also says that online platforms play a crucial role in working as a support group and she has been reaching out to many in distress over the last few weeks. “Set a goal for each day,” says Sangma.

Doctors also vouch for fitness, saying it plays a vital role in boosting immunity and mental health. So it’s a good idea to stretch with your children, or engaging in yoga or mediation along with the family members. This will prevent children from watching too much TV, say experts.

The lockdown will teach us one or two things, says Dr Mona Choudhary, a psychiatrist. Choudhary feels that people should utilize the opportunity to introspect and recalibrate life. “It’s an opportunity to introspect and come out stronger to live a healthier and climate- friendly life. We should evaluate what we need in life. This is an opportunity to know that we don’t need much to survive,” she says. While the crisis may change life drastically for some, Choudhary says one should count the blessings and adapt to new situations.

Fourteen-year-old Divyanshi Dutta religiously cleans the door knobs every two hours and washes her hands after a 20-minute gap, as suggested by some TV advertisement.

Her mother is concerned that information overload has induced paranoia in the teenager. Psychologists warn there should be limited consumption of news as it will be too overwhelming for children as well as for adults.

Many parents also find it challenging to engage children the entire day as outdoor games are also curbed. Children should be encouraged to read books or explore new games and activities. “Parents should engage with children more. It’s a time to reconnect and reinvent relationships,” says Dr Kumar.

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