Restrictions, strict measures, quarantine, insecurity, fear, and panic. Extensive media coverage with potential misinformation. Opinions without scientific evidence indiscriminately being shared via the internet. Constant reminders about what is happening. A bizarre situation where the future of healthcare, our jobs, and the economy is unpredictable and obscure. Nowadays this is the situation for many of us, and it will probably remain like this for a long period.
And on top of it all, most of us are probably also experiencing the unreal situation of living in a state of emergency which was, in the end, both inevitable and necessary. It is indeed our responsibility as individuals and as a society to do everything that is in our ability to stop the outbreak from spreading exponentially and flatten the curve. For many, this means quarantine and isolation. Research publications deem this necessary, but research also shows that our mental health is very fragile under these circumstances.
Home quarantine and isolation from the rest of the world are not something we are not particularly used to, but being in isolation in times with as much uncertainty as we have now is something that is even more unusual. Everyone will deal with isolation differently. Many people can rely on their family, others are in this completely alone. Regardless of how we cope with isolation, we cannot underestimate the psychological impact and effects it can have on our mental health. Publications from The Lancet and Psychiatry Investigation show that isolation can lead to feelings of unsafety, guilt, helplessness, and loneliness; all of which can further lead to depression, stress, anger, and anxiety. We need to be especially aware of the psychological impact isolation has on children and adolescents. Posttraumatic stress scores were four times higher in children who had been isolated compared to those who had not endured this experience. It is therefore extremely important that we recognize and accept the fact that this crisis will affect and impact every individual differently, and that we act accordingly.
We cannot forget how the situation is affecting those who are already struggling with their mental health. For instance, people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder will be at risk of relapsing back to irrational thought patterns and compulsive behaviors because of the constant reminders about the importance of hygiene to avoid the spread of the virus. People with claustrophobia and panic disorder will feel trapped. People with a general anxiety disorder will have a higher chance of feeling overwhelmed by the situation and the uncertainty we are facing and potentially suffer from episodes of anxiety. People who are already depressed and lonely will have their situation severely worsened because of loss of routines, interactions and the inability to do the activities they took pleasure in. We should, therefore, try to always keep these people in mind and take into consideration that these times are especially challenging for them. And because of this try our best to help them mitigate the factors that might contribute to the exacerbations of their conditions and that stand in the way of their mental wellbeing.
It is just as important to not forget the healthcare professionals and the demanding circumstances they are facing these days, fighting day and night to handle the situation. We cannot fail to remember that it is the healthcare professionals who are at the front lines of the pandemic, standing between us and the virus, defending us every passing day. They are the ones meeting and treating the patients, dealing with not only the disease but also their concerns. It is also them who will not be able to go home to their families, be it because of the incredible amount of workload or because of fear to spread the virus and infect their close ones. They are all facing long hours, psychological distress, burnout, and fatigue. We need to keep this in mind and show them profound gratitude during these challenging times. Let us be inspired by their selflessness and sacrifice, and aim to be just as selfless to help as much as we possibly can.
Heroes don’t wear capes, they wear scrubs and white coats.
Mental health is vital for our wellbeing and is just as important as our physical health. It has never been more important than today to show solidarity, openly talk about our feelings and accept that every person will handle the situation in different ways. Indifference, misinformation, and hostility are our biggest threats, and to overcome them we need to stick together and care for each other, to make sure that our mental health and that of others is as good as it can be. Now, fear and panic are almost going more viral than the virus itself. Let’s make sure that what goes viral are solidarity, compassion, and kindness. #MakeKindnessGoViral
(Note : Thank you to Norwegian Medical Students’ Association (NMSA) for the article and the project idea)