Three-fold increase in cases with mental health concerns


The one thing the citizens are reeling under is the ever-present anxiety of contracting the coronavirus — a festering paranoia eating into every aspect of life.

The digital ‘information overload’ is hardly a reprieve, clinical psychologists say. Those who have resumed work of late in particular are experiencing this anxiety or a borderline phobia.

Individuals who were once infected at the workplace fear returning. They are now seeking help from counsellors at facilities such as NIMHANS for mental health support. Parents have a similar concern too as children gradually return to school.

According to Dr Sanjeev Kumar M, assistant professor, Centre for Psychosocial Support in Disaster Management (CPSSDM) at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), though we are easing back to the normalcy of pre-covid-19 times, somehow, people still fear getting infected.

“They call the national helpline with vaccination-related queries as jabs are mandatory before resuming work, especially for those who are employed abroad and are not able to get vaccination or certificates to apply for visas. Certainly, there is a fear among them that they might get infected at the workplace. As most people work in different cities, they would often be worried about what to do if the third wave hits after they resume work. Would they return to their native or stay in the same city, working from home? We counsel several groups of people including those who have anxiety about resuming work, moving back to the city, etc. Some are contemplating waiting for two months as others feel helpless as there are hardly any options or jobs anywhere,” Dr Kumar told BM.

Citing an example of children, he explained further: “Though some parents are scared to send children to school, they don’t want them staying at home either. For instance, we received a call from a mother of four children with behavioural concerns. Often, it takes about two months for children to adapt completely to behavioural changes. Children have spent over one and half years at home with no school, which they have now adapted to. They keep telling their mother they want to stay home and help with house work. She is finding this difficult to deal with. Parents must not force children. They should speak to them and convince them or seek professional help.”

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Akanksha Pandey, consultant in clinical psychology, Fortis Hospitals, told BM that in last one and half years, there has been two to three-fold increase in the number of cases with mental health concerns — anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, panic attacks, health anxiety, somatic symptoms and burnout: “Change is always challenging and demands adaptation. In 2020, we adapted to living through a pandemic, so it is natural to expect difficulties to adapt to the new normal post pandemic as well. The important measures to maintain emotional well-being include maintaining physical and psychological hygiene. Psychological hygiene includes modifications in lifestyle, practicing yoga and mindfulness-based meditation, building better communication, proper sleep hygiene and seeking professional help when required.

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The pandemic forced us to maintain physical distancing but not emotional distancing. It is very natural to experience anxiety, insecurity, worry, mood-swings and depression. It is critical to maintain emotional and social connectedness as it instills a sense of security and belonging, facilitates self esteem, mood and emotional regulation.”

According to Pandey, though the internet and technology are helpful, we need to be mindful of our digital engagements to avoid digital addiction: “This can be taken care of by spending valuable time with family, friends, hobbies and alternate pleasurable activities without gadgets as a digital detox hour a day or so. The detox can be practiced every day during meals, family time and me time,” she added.

Dr Sugami Ramesh, senior consultant, clinical psychology, Apollo Hospital, told BM: “We have seen many parents who are very anxious to send their children to school as well as people who are scared to resume work like before due to the fear of covid-19. The doubt in their minds keeps them anxious. With the fear of a third wave looming and schools resuming, parents are concerned about sending their children to school.

They are worried they could contract covid as many children had returned to their natives in the neighbouring states where the cases are high. The same concern is seen among the employees as well who keep checking on their colleagues to see if anyone travelled or visited their native place.”

Children spent over one and half years at home with no school…they have adapted… Parents must not force but speak to, and convince them or seek professional help.

— Dr Sanjeev Kumar M, NIMHANS

How to identify issues?

Experiencing irritability, frequent and unprovoked outbursts of anger, persistent low mood, frequent spells of crying, repetitive negative thoughts affecting day-to-day activities, sleep or appetite disturbances, fearfulness, restlessness, loss of interest for more than two weeks resulting in over all decline in quality of life can be red flags of underlying mental health disturbances that require professional help.

What about children?

Children often display behavioural problems, temper tantrums, irritability, emotions such as fear, anxiety and anger, disruptive behaviour, sleep and appetite disturbances, difficulties with attention and concentration alongside somatic presentation. If a child is reluctant to go to school due to fear of covid-19, parents must not invalidate their feelings. They must encourage expression, listen actively and harbour a non-judgmental attitude. They must address fears rather than brush them off.

Coping


• Maintain a daily routine and structure

• Avoid bottling up. Express your feelings

• Engage in daily physical activities

• Seek help when in distress

• Engage in art-based activities daily to vent out



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Sagar Biswas

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