COVID-19 & Mental Health

We are in uncertain moments right now. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow or this evening or the next week. Well, we never really knew but we, at least, had some planned day-to-day activities. And it usually went according to the plan. But the situation is different right now and none of us can get it right because no one from our generation has faced such dire situations. Ever. This really is the first time.  

But COVID-19 really isn’t the only plague we are confronting. Mental health, because of COVID-19, has emerged as another global pandemic. A pandemic in uncommon forms: Increased suicide rates, increased depression and anxiety, increased rape cases, increased domestic violence. People are doing things which they never would have under normal circumstances. Parents are annoyed as hell with kids. Adults are constantly yelling at each other. A report dictated that a woman threw her husband’s cloth out the window just because it was lying on the floor.

Even introverts, who were generally thought to feel happy about the lockdown, have told that although the experience was great, they now feel like the sweet spot lies somewhere between being alone and being with people. About half of the US citizens have reported that their mental health is facing a serious trouble. Women seem twice as more susceptible to it compared to men. United Nations has already released an official warning of a global mental health crisis. I am no expert but we will go through some insight on what really is causing it and how can we fight against it? Buckle up, dear readers.

Before I move onto the causes of the severely rising mental health cases around the world, I would like to present some stories that have been shared online to provide a distinct view of the situation. Last week, an 8th grader emailed her counselor with the subject line tagged “Wellness Check”. She had a history of anxiety and depression. Therefore, her counselor’s office had been a safe haven for her for past several years out of the family drama and the anxiety it instigated.

However, after the government declared the lockdown, her anxiety grew. They regularly texted each other, but text could never substitute what a face-to-face communication could bring. After things grew worse, she emailed her counselor. Her email stated, “I want to die. Please call me.” After that, she disappeared. Her phone was switched off. Even her mother’s cell was unreachable. She didn’t attend her online classes. After a few days, someone had to drive to her home to ensure her safety. She isn’t the only case. Suicide hotlines are more active than ever.

Counselors from every school have been offering Zoom therapy sessions to their students because of the increasing concerns about their mental health. They reported in an interview that students have actually been wanting to come to school. However, it’s not only limited to children only. It has had its impact on people of every age group. Here are the few responses collected from diverse ages when they were asked about their emotions as a result of COVID-19 (credit goes to the New York Times):

1) I feel my sense of control has been robbed. My life is out of control and my fight-or-flight response has kicked in. There is uncertainty all around me and it’s really frightening. 

2) I feel anxious and lonely. I don’t know what I am doing or how life is moving every day. I cannot stop thinking. Therefore, I have decided to go in an internal vacation, within my body, now.

3) I am feeling very overwhelmed. I want to shut down and weep. 

4) I’ve been missing my children/grandchildren. Everything about them. Their drool, smell, runny nose. I am just angry at an unseen force because I cannot meet my children and stay with them. When this is over, I will hug them for as long as possible. 

5) I feel monotonous. It’s almost impossible to beat myself up for even the smallest of things.

In addition, COVID-19 especially has had its toll on mothers, patients of anxiety and depression, and front-line health workers. Mothers are dictating that their life is getting very overwhelming. They have to fulfill their work from home duty. They have to manage the distant learning environment for their children every day. They have to complete all household works. There is just too much pressure for them. This might be one reason that nearly twice as many females compared to the male age group are suffering from mental breakdowns during this pandemic.

Similarly, people with a history of anxiety, OCD, OCPD, and depression are also not really in a healthy state. They had arranged their life and collected it together to fight with the triggers. However, because of abrupt changes in their everyday schedule, they have been facing harsher disintegrations. The experience has been described as anxiety kicking in repetitively and incapability of find a satisfying breath. It was reported from a family in Maine that they had to hide all the sharp materials in their home to protect their loved ones.

Because of it, many therapists have moved online to protect and counsel these people to adapt. Finally, the people with the most severe mental health damage have been the front-line health workers. They are in the existential threat of PTSD. The threat of suicide always loomed for health workers, but it just has grown adversely at these moments. WHO’s report on mental health even stated that health workers from China, Italy, Canada, and the United States have noticed soaring rates of anxiety, depression, and insomnia. They are having to witness death every day. One doctor in a hospital stated her story:

“I am witnessing deaths after deaths. It hurts so much more when I cannot even show my face to the patients. I am hidden behind a thick protective suit and multiple layers of masks and head gowns. It’s almost as if that even in their last moments, they have nobody to say goodbye to but a stranger who is hidden beneath masks. The pain is intolerable.”  

Their celebration as heroes has been inflicting so much more pain. Those applauds have been hurting the wounds rather than comforting them. It’s again and again inviting the deeply buried anxiety. In a research, it was seen that the trauma and stress has brought forth the feelings of overwhelmingness and anxiety leading to more aggressive and depressed healthcare workers. A St. Louis Paramedic posted on Facebook ̶ 

“Screw all of you now. I see exactly why the only thing left to do now is suicide.”

Why really is COVID-19 affecting mental health? Shouldn’t it have rather made people feel more blissful? People have always been looking forward to vacations, but what is different now? It seems the pandemic has instigated an emotion of feeling trapped, lonely, and hopeless in the general population. An invitation to “what-if” questions. What if I contract the virus? What if the virus never dies? What if I die? What if my mother is infected with the virus? What if my company closes? What if my children can never return to school?

All of this is making people feel that the battle is worthless, which again makes them feel empty. People are just afraid. And leaders keeping quiet about the fact or the mainstream media supporting conspiracies haven’t been helpful at all. Social media rumors have allegedly caused mass hysteria. Besides that, even in individual scale, this change is too much for human beings. How many days does it take for humans to adapt to a minor change in behavior, say running every morning? Weeks, right?

Well, the current situation has demanded to change their entire schedule almost out of nowhere. It shouldn’t be surprising that everyone is finding it hard to adapt to. Someone who had been going to a job for ten straight years now has nothing to look forward. No wonder they would feel antsy, further causing other problems as increased anxiety.

And the worst part lies here: As adults, it’s childish to share anxiety because only teens feel that. They bottle up their emotions tightly. How to escape? “What drink should we have today?” Yes, COVID-19 has increased the rates of alcohol and drug consumption, which has been another contributive factor in poor mental health of the public.

This brings us to the question: What can we do? There are many times when we do not recognize that our mental health might be failing. So the first step we need to do is analyze ourselves. Asking questions like would I do this if the situation normal or is it normal to feel like this might be good for starters. We need to reflect deep within ourselves and our emotions at this hour. This might even be the perfect opportunity for us to go through inner reflections and process our unprocessed emotions that we have hid deeply within ourselves.

The next step would be to seek therapy, of course. Many psychologists are offering therapy via social platforms and this is a good time to go for it. If we aren’t going through anxiety, it’s still important for all of us to maintain a routine, exercise regularly, and have nutritious, balanced diet. Diet and sleep might also have been another reason for the increased rates of failing mental health. People aren’t much aware about when to sleep and wake up at this present hour, which is bad for the body. Furthermore, to spend their time, we can see a lot of cooking going in the Instagram/Facebook stories.

However, such food really isn’t that healthy for the mind or the body, even if it’s cooked at home. Consuming healthy and nutritious food is the best choice we can make. With your routines, don’t be highly aspirational or perfectionist. Have goals for morning, afternoon, and evening. Separate time for sleep and exercise. It’s necessary to understand that it is okay, even if we aren’t able to abide by the routine. But make a target of achieving at least 70% of it. Furthermore, keep in touch with people. Contact friends you haven’t seen in long.

More than texting, it might be a better idea to FaceTime, Zoom, or call people. Compared to texts, it provides more sense of belonging to the other person. Also, it’s important to limit the mainstream media news. A research showed that out of the mental health patients, during the lockdown period, most of them are Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit users. It might even be a wonderful idea to go through “Social media detox”.

However, YouTube users seem to be fairly happy at this moment, so you could always browse for educational and productivity enhancing content. Some of them might be Ted-Ed, Matt D Avella, Alan Watts, The School of Life, etc.

Finally, accepting that we cannot control the situation is absolutely crucial. Therefore, we need to focus our attention on controlling ourselves rather than the situation because it’s the only thing that we can control. Meditate, practice gratitude, log your feelings and emotions. This way you could keep your emotions in check and know how you could tackle it.

One last note: Do something for others at this hour. There is no other better feeling than it. It provides you with a purpose of living. 

Stay safe!

— Bibathshu, Kathmandu

* This is a submitted post *  

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