‘COVID-19 May Trigger Mental Health Crisis In Kashmir’

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Dr. Abdul Majid is a renowned psychiatrist of Jammu & Kashmir (Pic: ASHFAQ WANI / THE LEGITIMATE)

TL: Can you please tell us how COVID 19 has contributed to mental illness and what are its symptoms?

AM:  First and foremost, general masses perceive COVID19 as just pandemic, but for Mental health professionals, it is a disaster that has played havoc with human lives in multi-dimensions. It has affected the education sector, mental health, economy, health infrastructure and even it has played havoc with our day to day life routines. Some people are observing lockdown, while suspected people are put to quarantine, panic and fear has gripped the entire world.

Hence it’s obvious that people will suffer from fear, anxiety, stress, depression, and various mental issues, and to some extent, we view such reactions as a normal and natural process.  Sometimes, this fear and stress help people for a greater good otherwise the ignorant people will break the lockdown protocols and thus put their life and life of their loved ones in danger. Somehow this fear of COVID19 is protecting them from the COVID19 itself. They use masks, hand sanitizers, and also maintain their hygiene.
But in the extreme scenario, there are some people who are totally shattered with COVID 19 fear, it has affected their mental health, and has become a phobia. Such people suffer from insomnia, lose their appetite, and get irritated easily. But somehow such reactions in certain groups of people with heightened anxiety are expected as people haven’t experienced such a pandemic before in their lives.
Meanwhile, if there is a significant change in one’s behaviour and disruption in day to day routines of individuals as a result of this overwhelming increase of stress and anxiety in people, we must immediately consult the health experts and seek guidance.

TL: There are some poorly educated families in our society so how can a layman understand and notice the symptoms of mental health issues?

AM: See as I have mentioned earlier, there is no need to panic in such situations as the mental health-related issues are bound to happen when people are locked down for a longer period. We don’t consider it be a disease but a natural phenomenon to react to stressors and fear. Though there are various symptoms that can identify a person suffering from psychological problems e.g, Long-lasting sadness or irritability, extreme mood swings, excessive fear, worry or anxiety, social withdrawal, dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits, an increase in the heart rate, nervousness,  changed behavior, etc, are some of the major signs. But to some extent, such reactions are normal amid pandemic and lockdown. In addition to this, the most important thing to address here is that the family members or caretakers must keep a vigil on these individuals with such symptoms. If they witness the worsening of these symptoms over the period of time and disruption in there day to day routine, that’s the indicator and they must immediately consult mental health experts.

Dr. Abdul Majid is a consultant at the psychiatry department, SKIMS, Bemina.

TL: Which group of our society is prone & vulnerable to mental health issues amid COVID19 LOCKDOWN? 

AM: As per observation and various scientific studies, there are some risk groups in our society that are vulnerable to both COVID19 and stress and they are our Senior citizens especially those who are above 60 and already suffer from long term chronic illnesses like diabetes, renal diseases, mental illnesses, heart diseases, chest disease, cancer, etc due to which their immunity is very weak and hence are prone to COVID and stress. If God forbid, there are COVID suspects in our family, the first and foremost thing to do is to separate them from the elderly members of our family.

The second group that is more vulnerable to mental health issues are school going children and adolescents. Their studies are affected amid COVID lockdown, their social life is shattered, they used to have a busy schedule from dawn to dusk, but now their life is totally paralyzed and are locked inside like prisoners. This the group we must take good care of.
The third groups that I’m very concerned about are the expecting mothers of our society. They are in fear and worry due to COVID fatalities. There are a lot of issues they face as which hospital is safer amid COVID, they are worried about the well being of their babies. This group is also vulnerable to mental health issues like stress, anxiety & depression.
One more group that can suffer mental health issues are the specially-abled people of our society. They are helpless amid COVID lockdown and we need to take good care of them. In addition to that those people are alone and live a lonely life are also prone to stress and depression.  There are old age parents whose children are working abroad and due to the COVID lockdown, they couldn’t come home. Thus on humanitarian grounds, we must take care of such people as well.

TL: There are people who lost their jobs, several business hubs are shut down, and there is a huge financial breakdown. How will such people cope up with the stress and get back to live a normal life? 

AM: Our generation and even our parents have never experienced such a pandemic and lockdown. Some 100 years back there was the same situation but unfortunately, there are not much-documented reports as to how people back then survived the then pandemic.

We’re going through a tough phase of our life and we are fighting an invisible enemy, COVID19.  As we all know it has played havoc with almost all the facets of human life. Economy, tourism, education, transport, commercial & business establishments, COVID 19 has put a halt on all of these major sectors. Therefore, as I said before, having stress, anxiety, and other symptoms during such unfortunate times is but natural.
Merely, talking and debating won’t bring results and it won’t compensate for their loss. In order to help such help, the administration should frame out some policies and come forward to help them. It’s a collective loss and can be compensated collectively.
If we talk about our valley, COVID 19 has played havoc with the economy and business industry. People are so worried and nobody knows what is awaiting them ahead. As of now, we may not know the overall consequence it can put forth because still not much of a study has been done on it. But with the passage of time, it will reveal its disastrous effect not only on the economy but almost on all sectors of life.
Meanwhile, in times to come there is an increased responsibility for mental health experts as we may witness a surge in mental health cases. But so far my knowledge and experience of working in Kashmir suggest that people in Kashmir have grown up more resilient and responsive to disasters of any type. Still, however, we need to be cautious in view of the uncertainty and unpredictable future progression of the COVID19 and lockdown, which has adversely affected every aspect of life and may have its impact on our mental health as well.

Note: Dr. Majid is a consultant at the psychiatry department, SKIMS, Bemina.  Email: [email protected]

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