Mental health Effects of COVID- Time to prepare for the potential of a second wave in the fall?

World Health Organization has led to several precautionary measures such as quarantines, social distancing or in some cases total lockdown in regions or countries around the world.

New normal is making us adjust to new realities where the future is unpredictable.

Studies show depression rates usually soar after epidemics. Although the effects of the coronavirus on mental health have not yet been systematically studied but based on current public reactions, it is anticipated that COVID-19 will have rippling effects. The pandemic is posing real and tangible threats.

At Sleep Moksha, we are seeing increasing levels of psychosocial distress e.g., sleep-related issues, increased anxiety, mood problems, phobia-like behaviors, panic-like symptoms.

A wide array of DSM 5 diagnoses (like panic disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Substance Use Disorder (SUD), adjustment disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) are also resurfacing.

As healthcare workers, we are uniquely situated to help the community understand the potential impact of the virus and help patients, families, and society deal with this latest threat effectively.

While on one hand, some are finding new strengths, showing resilience and are expected to bounce back.

On the other hand, some groups of people are succumbing to the situation and reporting a significant dip in their mental health. The situation is especially going to have a long-term rippling effect on some groups of people like those with existing mental or long-term physical health conditions, people who get sick, health care workers, and could be especially at risk.

Mental health crisis during COVID 19

Social isolation

From weeks of lockdown turning into months, many people are experiencing a greater sense of isolation and loneliness. For that reason, we should prefer the term “physical distancing” rather than social distancing to describe physical distancing of two meters to stop the spread of virus and emphasizing the importance of staying socially connected. Physical distancing and Social isolation have deprived us of human touch and interaction that we are so used to.

Addiction is known to be a disease of isolation. Another challenge that emerges as a mental health crisis because of self-isolation is that of addiction with excessive drug and alcohol use.

A high level of post-traumatic stress disorder is also likely to be seen Among the people who contract COVID-19 and need to be hospitalized.

Uncertainty about the future and threat to survival. 

Everybody is dealing with the uncertainty of when the pandemic will end, potential threats of getting infected, the financial and economic crisis that is costing millions their jobs, has led to a significant dip in their mental health. Fearing about severe shortages of resources to the imposition of lockdown infringing on their freedom is further adding to the emotional distress during this time.

Anxiety, sleeplessness, and loneliness, are some of the mental health consequences that will persist long after the pandemic ends, while the increased feelings of depression and stress, especially during a time of uncertainty, may have serious impacts on public health, increasing people’s vulnerability to poor health, and weakening society as a whole. Health care workers who are on the front lines battling the virus, sometimes without the appropriate equipment to keep them safe, are also showing considerable rates of anxiety, insomnia, and depressive symptoms. A recent study of health care workers treating COVID-19 patients in China has already confirmed some of these concerns.

The fear and threat may trigger an acute Adjustment Disorder (AD), precipitating or worsening the existing suicidality in them, i.e., thoughts and/or behavior. In a recent study, those diagnosed with AD had 12 times the rate of suicide as those without an AD diagnosis, even after controlling for a history of depression and other matched factors.

Feeling Powerless

For some people, watching suffering increase at every level and feeling powerless about doing something to stop it leads to vicarious trauma. This is especially seen in empaths, who tend to feel the suffering of others strongly.

Although some of these reactions and feelings are completely normal during these unsettling times, they are unhealthy and unhelpful at the same time.

Measures to combat people’s isolation, loneliness, anxiety, and panic; and improve people’s well-being, can contribute to the successful reconstruction of our society when the pandemic ends, and people can return to their previous normal.

Social interaction is one of the most effective ways to cope with the current crisis. We work better in the company and with support. Humans are social creatures, and staying in touch with our loved ones and ventilating our fears, insecurities, and uncertainties is the best natural remedy. In times of crisis we need to communicate with those close to us more than ever. We all recognize that some people make us feel better and we cope naturally. Now is the time to be intentional and interactive and not to isolate. We are wired to be social and luckily, we can maintain emotional connection via technology.

A low index of suspicion of mental distress can help in early detection and treatment and spare patients much suffering.

Apart from this, here is what you can do to feel better and manage your psycho-social distress and stay functional

  • Calm yourself down and let not spread the virus of anxiety. Fear spreads faster than any virus.
  • Keep a regular routine intact.
  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. You must create and maintain a very consistent sleep practice and schedule. Set a regular bedtime and pair it with a set time to wake up. The more consistent is your wake up time, the more steady your body functions are.
  • Look at the silver lining. Hope is known as a protective factor against anxiety.
  • Don’t get sucked up in news –Consume only that much news that is going to personally impact you. 24/7 exposure to coronavirus related news will only magnify your stress and fear.
  • Be mindful, spend more time in the present than future forecasting.
  • Practice gratitude
  • Control the controllable
  • Cultivate a new hobby. Do things that bring joy and calm into your life
  • Exercise at least 20 minutes a day
  • Get professional help when it becomes overwhelming!

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