Covid-19 will end, as do all nightmares. What will remain behind is a world of grief. Our first rehabilitative challenge would be something which we have always saved for last: mental health.
We have all, in one way or the other, faced the consequences of Covid-19. While many have been physically impacted by the virus and pinned to ICU beds or forced to retreat in a corner of the house, others have been buried in an intense obsessive battle between “should I wash my hands or let it go this time? Should I allow this person to use my pen or make an excuse?” We have all, more than we would want, found ourselves washing our hands just because of the ‘what ifs?’ What if I got the virus if I didn’t wash my hands or sanitise the door knobs? This has left us mentally exhausted.
The deadly pandemic, associated lockdowns and hardcore restrictions have indiscriminately caused everyone to feel stressed. The sight of the same walls at home, the itchy and suffocating face masks, the impulse of spraying antiseptic on everyone and everything, the fear of physically meeting another human, the panic on hearing someone cough in public, the “doctor, I have lost my mother to Covid, please save my father!” — all has taken its toll. As a main part of the recovery process, we need to mend our mental health before we can finally move on.
The next big question which would soon erupt like a raging volcano and burn us all before we know it is: where do we stand in terms of dealing with grief, negative emotions and broken minds? Right now, six feet under.
The pandemic's ripple effect has the potential of causing a mental health tsunami. The worst of the waves are yet to come. Our healthcare policymakers must understand the link between a contagion and mental health and focus on this not-so-apparent aspect of post-Covid rehabilitation.
What can be done? Health workers falls under the red zone. Their pandemic-related mental issues can be reduced by addressing burnout which is a major factor towards ill health. Providing protective equipment and a clean working environment are some simple but important steps. A team of trained individuals can provide confidential psychological assistance over the phone with matters related to stress, burnout, adjustment, Covid duties, and other mental issues.
Patients who have returned home from Covid ICUs should receive psychotherapy for depression, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicidal ideation. The support group culture should be introduced, now more than ever, where people sharing common ailments can sit together and talk. All this can be done through the use of telehealth platforms. Outdoor community activities with precautions can be conducted by governmental bodies to counter the year-long sense of isolation and loneliness.
What exactly is the need of addressing mental health issues? The answer is simple: to avoid loss of life. The pandemic is like an octopus with each limb representing stress, isolation, insecurity, fear, social disruption, substance abuse, bereavement, and death — all of which can lead to anxiety and depressive disorders which in turn can lead to suicide. It has been reported in Pakistan that almost 25 people have committed suicide in relation to Covid-19 over the past year.
This pandemic’s wrath should not make us close our eyes towards the humbling lesson it carries. It is an opportunity for us to correct our growing intolerance and insensitivity. It is an opportunity for us to sit, listen, talk and ease the rehabilitative journey of one another. Only then can we create a more tolerant and peaceful post-Covid world where, hopefully, we would not be afraid of a handshake.