Mental Health in Post-Covid Era
Humans are social beings after all, and when the dire need arose to contain the spread of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), our lives were confined to four walls for a long duration. The drastic step was unforeseen, and the majority of the population was unequipped to deal with such a situation. One of the biggest global crises in generations, the COVID-19 pandemic, had severe and far-reaching repercussions for health systems, economies, and societies at large. The profound sense of physical isolation from the rest of the world caused significant impact to our mental health. We were gripped by fear, panic, and worry.
As per a scientific brief released by World Health Organization (WHO), there was rapid increase in anxiety and depression by 25%.
For some, the COVID-19 sparked or amplified an array of several serious mental health problems. The psychological impact resulted in obnoxiously elevated levels of stress or anxiety. Multiple lines of evidence suggest that there is a varying yet considerable increase in mental health issues among the general population and vulnerable groups. Furthermore, previous major public health emergencies showed that more than half of the population developed mental health problems and required mental health interventions.
A comprehensive review of COVID-19 on mental health estimated by the latest study of Global Burden of Disease shows that the pandemic has severely affected the mental health of adolescents, young adults, and women, putting them at high risk of suicidal and self-harming patterns of behaviour. People with pre-existing physical health conditions like asthma, cancer, and heart disease reported to have developed symptoms of neurotic disorders.
MULTIPLE STRESS FACTORS
Loneliness, fear of infection, suffering and death for oneself and for loved ones, grief after bereavement and financial worries all stemmed from the pandemic and worked as major stressors leading to anxiety and depression. Among health workers, exhaustion has been a major trigger for suicidal thinking.
ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION
Persistent and uncontrollable stress and worry triggered by anticipation of future events. People with anxiety generally live on the extremes and within seconds they picture the worse out of any situation. Anxiety in extreme form can be quite troublesome and debilitating to carry out daily activities.
Depression is a mood disorder that involves prolonged feelings of sadness and loss of interest. Its main feature is prolonged feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness. With depression, one may even fail to see the point of living altogether. Depression requires long-term treatment, and people get better with medication and counselling.
SYMPTOMS OF ANXIETY
Researchers could not single-out one particular cause for anxiety. Studies have emphasized that anxiety disorders are caused by a combination of factors, which may include:
Medical Causes – Anxiety can be caused as a side effect to some medication, or stress of surgery.
Genetics & Brain chemistry – Studies have shown that anxiety disorders are caused due to misalignments of hormones and electrical signals in the brain. It has been also highlighted that first-degree relatives of those with anxiety showed an 18% morbidity risk for developing anxiety disorders.
Hormonal Causes – The hormonal changes that women go through during their menstrual cycle or those suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) may cause anxiety and stress.
Past life events – Experiencing abuse, attack, or sexual assault can lead to serious health problems, including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression.
Environmental stressors – Not being able to cope up with work-life balance, relationship problems, or family issues may lead to anxiety disorders.
SYMPTOMS OF DEPRESSION
Every 1 in 15 adults experiences depression in any given year. Some of the common causes of depression may include early childhood trauma, brain anomalies, family history, chronic illness or drug abuse. On average, women are more prone to depression. Research studies have emphasised that one-third of women will experience a major depressive episode in their lifetime.
The coexistence of anxiety and depression is clinically called comorbidity. Studies have shown that 60% of those with anxiety will also have symptoms of depression and vice versa. Psychological counselling and medications like antidepressants and mood stabilisers help in treating both the disorders. Lifestyle changes, such as improving sleep habits, increasing social support, using stress-reduction techniques or getting regular exercise, also have shown long-lasting effects.
EASY MEASURES TO DEAL WITH ANXIETY
Avoiding our anxious thoughts will only intensify it. Acknowledging our anxious thoughts is the first and the most important step towards finding a solution. Mindfulness is a helpful exercise in learning how to sit with the discomfort of anxiety. It teaches us that one can experience anxiety without letting it completely grip or overwhelm us. Through this exercise, we learn to accept the unpleasant thoughts and redirect our mind to something cathartic. Our tendency to act upon our anxious thoughts compulsively gets redirected as we learn to control our impulses.
A growing number of empirical studies have revealed that diaphragmatic breathing may trigger body’s relaxation responses and benefit both physical and mental health. Diaphragmatic breathing involves inhaling deeply engaging the stomach, abdominal muscles, and diaphragm. Belly breathing activates our relaxation response, reducing heart rate, blood pressure and lowering stress levels. The diaphragm is a large muscle that is located at the base of the lungs. This breathing exercise helps in strengthening the diaphragm as you take deeper breaths, relieving stress. You can practice this breathing exercise for 5–10 minutes a day at least.
For thousands of years, meditation has been linked with something sacred, a way of connecting to the greater forces and inner self. However, in recent times, meditation is used for relaxation and as a stress buster. Meditation improves our cognitive abilities, relaxes our mind, streamlines our thoughts, reduces negative emotions, improves tolerance to stress. Several studies have indicated a positive impact of meditation in reducing stress and enhancing general wellbeing. They have also suggested that meditation can be helpful for the treatment of anxiety, addiction, aggression, suicidality and depression. You can try various types of meditation such as chanting mantras, mindfulness, muscle relaxation movements, and more.
Exercising produces endorphins, the feel-good hormones, which are known to effectively relieve stress and chronic depression by increasing serotonin (the neurotransmitter targeted by antidepressants). Exercise also helps in normalizing our sleep patterns, improving overall mental and physical health. Exercise does not mean indulging in heavy workout sessions. It can also mean making a habit to go for regular walks, which can be quite soothing and refreshing. The detrimental effects of COVID-19 and social distancing on mental health will outlast the virus. There is an urgent need to reorganise existing mental health services to address the current unmet needs for mental health and to prepare for future challenges in the post pandemic era in terms of prevention and management. Stress restricts our immune system from working at full capacity, making us susceptible to numerous conditions. Introduce yourself to these healthy activities and balance your life with ease.
The aftermath of coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic brought in a wave of psychiatric illnesses, which majorly stemmed from normal people being exposed to extraordinary situations. Every health care institute must have a system to identify and provide care for patients with mental health conditions particularly and discourage the stigma attached to it. Basic self-care strategies can be taught to patients for recognizing signs of distress and simple techniques to manage or control these signs.
Encouraging people to prioritize their mental well-being, starting the discussion about mental health among company leaders, and educating people to consider their word choices surrounding mental health are simple steps that can be taken to overcome the stigma and building of additional services such as Telepsychiatry, early assessment, treatment and psycho-social support, screening and support for specific groups.