Mental health: An invisible pandemic within a pandemic

K V Kurmanath Hyderabad | Updated on May 07, 2021

Psychological issues hit children, students, workers, parents

“I have lost all my confidence. I don’t know whether I can take a class properly,” says a teacher, who has just recovered from Covid. Shaken, she has begun consulting a psychiatrist.

Fear, anxiety and stress are sharply on the rise as India battles a devastating second wave of Covid-19. Psychiatrists report a growing number of people have been seeking them out in the last two or three weeks. Even as the novel corona virus wreaks physical havoc,  mental health issues are an invisible pandemic within the pandemic.


Morbid Fears

“For the last two-three weeks, the cases of patients with mental health issues have gone up. Most of them are presenting with fear and anxiety about Covid. Unlike last year when people came to us with fear about uncertainties and financial reasons, this time it is purely because of Covid infection and fear of death,” says Dr I Bharat Kumar Reddy, a Senior Consultant Psychiatrist with Apollo Hospital.

The cases coming to him range from fear of contracting the infection, and being hospitalised to even anxiety over whether they would be able to get vaccinated.  

Puli Vanaja Reddy, a consultant psychiatrist, says the death of relatives and friends is triggering anxiety. “There are people who are otherwise very strong but now begin to worry about the likely contraction of the infection. There are those who have attended to a close relative who has lost the battle to Covid. While mourning the death, they are equally worried about whether they might have contracted the infection,” she says.

There are two other categories of people that face psychological issues triggered by Covid fears. “Those who are infected have different sets of issues. They are stressed out after tests, looking for hospitals. Even if they come out of the problem, the fears hang on in them,” she says.

Covid fears are adding to the problems of those who are already under treatment for psychological issues and de-addiction. The OCDs (obsessive compulsive disorder) are getting exaggerated and the fears and doubts around Covid-19 are adding to the problems to those diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Families handling alcohol addicts too are facing problems. “In the first year, they faced withdrawal symptoms due to lack of availability of liquor. Now there are addicts who have suddenly stopped taking liquor acting on reports that they should not take it during vaccination. They should stop it only under a doctor’s consultation,” Vanaja cautions.

Cooped up Children

According to psychiatrists, the pandemic-induced lockdowns, closure of schools, loss of jobs and prolonged work-from-home schedules have triggered emotional and psychological challenges among many - especially children.

“Children are under the watchful eyes of the parents all the time. Students are expected to study for hours and the youth are stressed out, seeking employment opportunities,” says Dr Harini, a psychiatrist with CARE Hospitals.

The pent-up distress would just need one more trigger for people to take that extreme step, cautions the doctors.

“When they are met with any additional stress (say, scolding by a parent), they take quick decisions, posing threat to lives,” Dr Harini says.

Children with autism and ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) are missing out their sessions in schools and with counsellors, resulting in behavourial issues that the parents are not able to handle.

Coping Strategies

Dr Harini puts the onus on the parents to deal with emotional problems of kids. “You must spend at least two hours a day, playing with them. Couples should not quarrel in front of their wards. You should not push them to study. They are under tremendous pressure as they are away from friends and school,” she advises.

You must stay connected with fellow members within the home. Couples should ensure that their conflicts don’t get flared up. You (mother and father) are a security strategy for children and it should not be dismantled,” she cautions.

Getting mentally and physically prepared for any eventuality and getting ready with a solid backup plan for the family can be a good strategy. “There are several helplines available to help people in distress. You must plan for it -- what if you get it, and what if you don’t get it – you should have a backup plan. You need to be well prepared for any eventuality,” Vanaja Reddy says.

Published on May 06, 2021

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