The fear of 2019 novel coronavirus has left people wondering whether the health system will be able to cure them or make their loved ones sick. Subsequently, public and clinical health efforts during the spread of coronavirus in population have focused on severe medical care needs of those who are severely affected. The urgent priorities of health sector include enhancing the capacities of hospitals for sick patients and provision of equipment to health workers to meet the challenging medical demand for keeping them safe whereas less attention has been paid to mental health consequences of the pandemic. So far, there is urgent need to overcome the virus and its physical threat; when the pandemic will diminish and we will start our normal life, it is the psychological issue that will emerge and will last for months and years to come.
During this type of natural crisis everyone experience fear of infection, losing loved ones and worries about the consequences of pandemic. Compounding the disturbance of daily routine, social isolation imposed by government by the “stay at home” order, physical isolation go along with financial losses can put high risks of adverse mental health issues. According to experts some of the factors of the stress have long lasting effects which means they persists even after the disappearance of the pandemic. It can be said that financial loss and job insecurity may have long lasting effects.
To overcome the issues of mental health the efforts should begin with those who are at the increased risk of mental health outcomes. The persons with pre-existing mental disorder are more vulnerable to such stressors. In this situation they need adjustments in their treatment and increased consultation with their mental health provider. Other people who are at high risk of mental health issues include: whose loved one die due to coronavirus, who live with someone affected by covid-19 and who lived in isolation.
Moreover, the most vulnerable group to depression, anxiety or other mental health diseases is the healthcare professionals who have close contact to positive cases. Working with inadequate personal protective equipment, extensive involvement in end-of-life care to connect patients and their families, and working outside the field of medically confident can lead to psychological stress. A recent study in China involving 1,563 health professionals reported that almost 50.7% have depressive symptoms, 44.7% anxiety and 36.1% sleep disturbance. In February 2020 total of 323 cases of severe mental illness have been recorded in China.
In addition, in Pakistan limited knowledge of COVID-19 and the overwhelming news will lead to anxiety and fear in the public. According to Lancet report (2020), 24 cases of mental illness due to effects of quarantine and isolation have been recorded. The most common mental illness was found emotional exhaustion, depression and outbursts.
Some of the suggestions to mitigate the adverse mental health effects for health care professionals include provision of adequate protective personal equipment, provision of education and training to manage the disease and access to covid-19 testing. It may also include develop flexible work schedules and commitment for provision of care and incentives if workers become ill or die with the covid-19.
One of the coping strategies is to avoid excessive exposure to the news of the pandemic and not ruthlessly track the spread of the virus
In order to deal with mental health issue the ministry of human rights and World Health Organization has issued guidelines to care for other persons in this crisis. These guidelines encourage people to avoid spread of fake news and always verify the sources as fake news are a major source of panic. Some of the suggestions include: refrain from gossips or believing any gossip without verification, not attach stigma to people who are suffering from coronavirus and not attach any race, ethnicity and religion with virus. The ministry said in their statement that if anyone believes that their relative, friends or any loved one is suffering from any psychological illness or abuse then call the ministry of human rights helpline of 1099.
One of the coping strategies is to avoid excessive exposure to the news of the pandemic and not ruthlessly track the spread of the virus. It’s also advised to access limited, trusted sources of information. Moreover, the managers in collaboration with human resource management should develop communication plan which clearly presents the decision related to business continuity plan during the pandemic and post pandemic business plan. Government programs, especially financial security programs help to reduce the psychological disorder during this historic time. The psychiatric morbidities can be mitigated by the provision of tele-health services. The King Edward Medical University and its affiliated hospitals including Mayo Hospital has started telemedicine department by keeping in view the covid-19 situation. The telemedicine department is offering free of cost, expert advice in all major specialists including psychiatry and mental health. These services are available 24/7.
Adding, there is need to increase primary health care surveillance through routine screening for depression, stress and anxiety. Psychological institution need to operate platforms to strengthen mental health initiatives and guidance to families, isolated patients and health workers professionals and training to nurses, social workers in brief evidence-based psychotherapy techniques to manage complicated grief, adjustment disorders, and mild to moderate depression. Many people have come forward with free counseling, workshops, etc. for those who find it difficult to attend to the psychological challenges caused by epidemics. Putting one’s skills to the benefit of others is probably the best self-therapy for mental health.
This article was originally published at: https://dailytimes.com.pk/615039/meeting-the-mental-health-challenges-during-covid-19/
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.