Loss of a loved one to Covid takes heavy toll on many

Rutam Vora Ahmedabad | Updated on October 02, 2021

Seek grief counselling as stress, anxiety lead to physical and mental disorders

Shilpa Shah was shocked to discover that she had developed irritable bowel syndrome, a chronic gastrointestinal disorder needing a strict diet and a regimen of medicines.

A similar shock was in store for Jaydeepsinh Rana, when his family physician put him on hypertension drugs and prescribed sleeping pills.

Both Shah (in her late 50s) and Rana (late 40s) did not have a history of these complications, nor did they show any symptoms till recently.

It was only after Shah lost her 56-year-old husband to Covid in April, and couldn’t even bid him a final good bye, that she experienced sleeplessness, loss of appetite and diarrhoea. For Rana, he couldn’t forgive himself for not shifting his father to a better hospital for Covid treatment, eventually losing him.

This triggered in him occasional breathlessness, sudden outbursts and constant sweating.

Psychosomatic disorders

Psychologists say grief from losing a loved one is manifesting in psychosomatic disorders such as hypertension, IBS, skin itching, social withdrawal, crying, hopelessness, and guilt with extreme suicidal thoughts in the elderly. Children are facing psychogenic asthma and separation anxiety. And the youth are getting addicted to smoking. Dr TS Sathyanarayana Rao, a leading psychiatrist and General Secretary of Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS), said: “Death of a spouse is the highest stress-inducing agent in anyone’s life. Also, there is a phobia associated with the death of someone close to you, which causes constant stress, leading to psychosomatic complications and chronic diseases.”

“We have seen a sharp rise in grief counselling. There is about a 50-60 per cent rise than a normal year. People come to us with faulty perception about self and others,” said Dr Prashant Bhimani, a senior psychologist.

A major sense of helplessness comes from not being able to bid a final goodbye to a loved one or perform the last rituals due to Covid-linked restrictions.

“Not being able to see the body became a big psychological setback. Such an experience was rare and limited to incidents such as plane-crash. People have an urge to see the face at least the last time. This feeling of regret and guilt pushes them into depression,” said Bhimani, urging cognitive behavioural therapy and supportive counselling in such situations.

Psychosocial support

“A general prescription is that we must move on. There is no point in feeling guilt.

“And one should remain psychologically healthy to keep the family healthy,” said Dr Bhimani.

Recognising the need, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had released a manual for healthcare professionals to provide psychosocial support to family members of Covid victims. IPS has national and international teams to provide free psychiatrist services to the needy.

People are also beginning to understand that some of these problems need professional attention. And the stigma in approaching a psychiatrist is gradually reducing, observes Dr Rao.

(Names of patients have been changed upon request)

Published on October 01, 2021

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