Coronavirus — a growing challenge for mental health conditions:

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By Taj Nabi Khan

ISLAMABAD, Apr 12 (APP):The large scale global outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic with its ever spreading claws has infected more than 1.7 million people and devoured over one hundred thousand people across the world. The minor precautionary measures against the invisible spread of virus are somewhat like walking on a tightrope in the air without falling from it. The situation has forced each and every citizen to act responsibly as “prevention is better than cure”.

Primarily the infected persons and healthcare professionals who are fighting the frontline battle against the coronavirus are being faced with mental health issues. But at the same time, the masses are also facing a number of psychological challenges while taking precautionary measures for them and other safety measures to halt the spread of virus.

The sudden change in domains of public and social life such as ‘restricted-lifestyle’, ‘social-distancing’ and ‘lockdown’ has created a tough mental health conditions for the people. While following the instructions for breaking the chain of virus such as: ‘stay-home and stay-safe’, ‘frequently wash-hands’, ‘avoid gatherings’, ‘stay away from animals and sick people’, ‘don’t touch face and mouth with unwashed hands’ etc. has created a tense environment of nervous-tight situation.

According to a recent survey of Center for Global & Strategic Studies (CGSS), Islamabad, on “COVID19: A leading cause of anxiety and depression in healthcare professionals” the healthcare professionals are being exposed to psychological stress at personal and professional capacities due to the pandemic.

The researchers have conducted a cross-sectional survey of 1257 healthcare workers in 34 hospitals across China, including Wuhan, epicenter of the outbreak. The survey of more than 1200 healthcare providers in China, about 50% reported at least mild depression; 14% of physicians and nearly 16% of nurses reported moderate or severe depressive symptoms and about 34% reported insomnia.

The research also underlines that a large section of healthcare providers treating patients exposed to COVID-19 have symptoms of mental stress including depression, anxiety, and insomnia. It stated that the psychological distress was due to the increasing contagiousness of the virus.

Talking to APP, Clinical Psychologist and Vice President Academics, International Islamic University, Islamabad, Dr. Muhammad Tahir Khalily said, “The continuous situation of stress, depression, helplessness and anxiety would exacerbate the obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD).” The prolong period of lockdown could lead to disruption of social order, anxiety, drug and psychotropic addictions.

While reiterating preventive measures for damage control, Tahir Khalily said that the coronavirus was a health issue; its patients should not be socially stigmatized. He said that the ongoing stress would affect the tolerance level but there were also chances that it would increase the resilience of people. He, however, urged the people to practice ‘physically interacting distancing’ instead of ‘social distancing’, and said that the quarantine period could be productively used for self-accountability, self-reflection and spiritual-richness.

Islamabad based Psychologist, Dr. Shamsher Hayat Khan said, “The ongoing spread of coronavirus has created a tense environment for the masses to cause a number of psychological problems including generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, stress, depression and obsessive compulsive disorders”.

He said that the fear of loss, avoidance of socialization, financial problems and adjustment of losses has increased the possibilities of depression — the sever form of which often creates suicidal tendencies. The unusual repeated acts for prevention of the virus (hands-wash, isolation etc.) make the obsession strong which would lead to different compulsive ‘disorders’.

However, Dr. Shamsher has urged the people to get engaged in home-restricted productive and recreational activities such playing games, watching dramas and reading books. He said, “Daily make a different schedule for the activities and avoid watching news channels except for the news bulletin and that too once in 24 hours.”