June 15, 2021
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‘Compassion Fatigue,’ The New Normal During Covid Times And Why We Don’t Cry Anymore!

Mental illnesses like depression and anxiety are only getting amplified by the pandemic. The old and the young are equally vulnerable

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‘Compassion Fatigue,’ The New Normal During Covid Times And Why We Don’t Cry Anymore!
A family member conducts last rites before cremation of a person who died of COVID-19, at Nigambodh Ghat cremation ground as coronavirus cases surge,in New Delhi.
‘Compassion Fatigue,’ The New Normal During Covid Times And Why We Don’t Cry Anymore!

When Covid-19 broke about 14 months ago, no one could imagine that life would slap the humanity so hard. We all thought that we were living in an age of advanced industrial revolution and we would overcome this pandemic soon with ease. Swept by a ravaging Covid pandemic in India, we are witnessing helplessly its impact on human lives and livelihood. It’s well said that ‘changeis the only constant in life,’ but we were ignorant that the change can be so devastating, that it would transforming our lives in many different ways.

As a result of the Covid pandemic, we have been deeply impacted by loss of jobs and livelihood, deep uncertainty (as to how long pandemic will last), fear of getting infected and dying and losing our near and dear ones. No doubt, losing a job is one of life’s most stressful events. Millions and millions of people in almost all walks of life have already lost their livelihoods due to complete or partial shutdown of economic and commercial activities.

One can imagine the intensity of suffering and emotional distress of their families on the loss of income. Due to the economic turmoil that the country has been undergoing, people are increasingly and expectedly showing signs of increased psychological distress and suffering.

The way the people are dying, we are experiencing ‘compassion fatigue’. Unless someone who is related or close to us dies due to Covid-19, the rising number of deaths are no more than mere statistics. Now deaths don’t invoke the feelings of compassion the way they should under the ordinary circumstances. It’s like an emotional fatigue, being triggered by a long period of distress.

Being unmoved by death has become a normal feeling. It is not due to any indifference or callousness. With this ‘compassion or emotional fatigue’, our ability to empathise with others has been consistently decreasing. However, it doesn’t mean that fear of getting infected and dying is reducing. In fact, such distressing feelings are still rising among large section of society especially old, weak and vulnerable people.

Fear factors

It’s not simple to pinpoint the exact reasons that lead to different mental illnesses. However, thanks to latest medical research findings, it has become easier now to identify different conditions that cause these illnesses. Many of these conditions are caused by biological, psychological and environmental factors. The conditions in which we live have a major role in our mental health problems.

However, the fact is when we are mentally stressed for prolong period, unhappy with life’s circumstances and facing adversities and traumatic experiences then we become highly vulnerable to different mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. The pandemic conditions can easily trigger such illnesses if people fall under vulnerable categories.

All over the world including in India, the incidents of mental illnesses are rising sharply and almost taking the shape of a ‘global epidemic’. Among the most common health disorders are depression and anxiety. A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that 7.5% of the Indian population suffers from some form of mental disorder.

The study claims that nearly 200 million Indians were suffering from mental disorders, including 46 million reported to have depressive disorders, and other 45 million were suffering with anxiety disorders. No doubt, it’s a huge number. At its most severe, depression can lead to suicide.Globally, one person dies from suicide every 40 seconds, according to the WHO.

Real bad news

The way the mental health conditions are increasing, the WHO has also warned that these problems will be the main cause of disability in the world in 2030. Now people, already suffering from mental health conditions are further being affected adversely by the emotional responses elicited by Covid pandemic. This is resulting in further deterioration of their existing mental health condition due to fear and chronic stress, caused by economic and psychological turmoil.

Currently, most of the states are under complete or partial lockdown and most of the people are compelled to stay indoors. Obviously, their exposure to television, computers and mobiles has substantially increased. More people are spending their time on social media. Not only are they are becoming distracted, less attentive, and less sharply focused, but there is also an adverse impact on our health and well-being.

It disrupts our normal sleep rhythms. Many studies have shown a direct correlation between excessive use of mobiles and poor sleep quality, leading to mental health problems. Research studies have also shown greater incidences of depression and anxiety, especially among the younger generation.

There is, however, one unintending consequence of Covid pandemic and that’s increased awareness of physical immunity. Social and electronic media has been spreading educative material, by way of videos, articles and images, as how to enhance immunity for preventing corona attack. Though there are numerous misleading and fake videos from unprofessional sources, but certainly people have become more aware about preventive and curative measures. The emphasis, however, is primarily on physical health and not mental wellbeing.

Being mindful

What’s badly needed during challenging time is mental wellbeing, which comes with psychological immunity and mental toughness. In their absence, it’s highly difficult to manage distressing and toxic thoughts that may invade and persist during difficult circumstances. If someone is psychologically stressed and distressed due to traumatic experience, loss of livelihood, widespread fear, acute boredom and loneliness then physical immunity alone will not help.

Unless we are mentally strong, those categories of people may find extremely difficult to handle their mind. If we try to suppress those thoughts then same set of thoughts would resurface with greater frequency. Therefore, we need psychological immunity, even fact more than general immunity required for the body. We must keep in mind that it takes time to develop or improve mental immunity, it needs persistent efforts. Mental resilience is also an integral and extremely important part of mental immunity.

According to American Psychological Association, mental resilience means, “adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress”. How easily and smartly we get adapted to such situations is the key to become “a mentally resilient” person. More rigid we are during adversity, greater are the chances to break under severe mental stress. Mental immunity allows us to adapt and succeed under difficult conditions. How early and easily we recover back from any adversity or traumatic event, to a large extent, depends on psychological immunity.

Exercising caution

Mental health can be strengthened by any strenuous physical exercise such as running, brisk walking, sports activities, aerobics exercise, and so on. Besides, we need to develop, pursue and regularly follow some passion like photography, painting, dance, music, bird watching and wild life etc.

Of course, it’s also necessary to avoid experiencing excess eating, fast food, sugar, smoking, alcohol and deep fry food items. Sound sleep is another ‘must do’ requirement for our mental wellness. For mental exercises, the most important intervention is meditation preferably along with yoga and pranayama/breathing exercise.

With meditation, we gradually develop a far greater control over our emotions. Meditation prompts changes in the emotion-processing part of the brain, the amygdala. Through this practice, depressing, distressing, and other negative thoughts are under check. The resulting sense of peace and well-being pervades in every area of life.

Under stressful and unpleasant conditions, regular practitioners can lead a far and more peaceful life. Even when disturbed by upsetting events, they recover very fast, and with greater self-control. This is what’s required during Covid times.

(The writer is a retired IAS officer, a senior Member of UP RERA and an author. Views are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of Outlook Magazine.)

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