It’s 2020 and one of the first things we will remember of this year is the spread of the deadly Covid-19 virus and the havoc it unleashed on the world as we know it. The widespread outbreak of this virus has been categorised as a pandemic, which brings us to the question - what is a pandemic?
The word pandemic finds its origins in the Greek word ‘pandemos’ (everybody). Thereby, a pandemic can be described as the outbreak of a disease that the whole world will be exposed to and potentially a proportion of them will fall sick. The last reported pandemic was the H1N1 flu pandemic that recorded hundreds of global fatalities in 2009. While the physical symptoms and side effects of a pandemic have been recorded and discussed at length, the same cannot be said about the psycho-social impact of a pandemic. When human life is turned on its head and everything that human beings know and experience undergoes extensive change, the lasting impact of that is much greater than what is visible to the eye.
Combatting the Covid-19 pandemic calls for imposing extraordinary measures, such as strict lockdowns, social distancing measures and practicing self-isolation. Human beings are social animals and social interactions and community participations are intrinsic to our well-being. Devoid of this, our social and psychological health suffers significantly. The loss of life and livelihood, fear of contracting the virus and getting sick, the feeling of not knowing what to expect next, questioning when all of this will come to an end and the impounding uncertainty that surrounds us brings feelings of fear, anxiety, anger and confusion - severely impairing our quality of life.
Irna Nevzlin, author of the book ‘The Impact of Identity: The Power of Knowing Who You Are’ recorded in an interview to a leading daily, “Mental health and psychological issues will have much harder and much longer-term effects than the disease. Pandemics pass eventually, but the aftershock and the post-trauma can be quite dramatic.” Arguably, the worst impact of a pandemic is imposed self-isolation. It is a known fact that some of the highest rates of suicide and self-harm are recorded in circumstances of solitary confinement. As per a statement released by Roshni, a social organisation based in Hyderabad that offers mental health support, they have received over 5000 calls post the imposition of the nationwide lockdown of which 20% expressed suicidal thoughts and 5% had decided to end their lives. People who called cited reasons of financial stress, anxiety of losing or having lost their jobs, fear of their lives due to increased incidences of violence within their homes amongst other issues.
Disruptions to our daily routines can prove to be extremely difficult to manoeuvre, leaving us feeling unfocused, agitated and without a sense of control. One way to combat this is to draw up a new routine and fill in the long hours with activities that will keep our minds and bodies occupied. The abundance of information available on all forms of media can be very disturbing, making it essential to structure the time we spend devouring this information. This does not go to say that we must not be aware. Awareness of the disease and ways to fight it is key to our survival through the pandemic. While enduring that we have the correct information, we must also ensure that we follow through with the required sanitation and hygiene measures compulsorily. By individually ensuring that we are keeping safe and maintaining our highest levels of hygiene, we are able to further protect others who may be at a heightened risk of contracting the disease. While physically and socially distancing ourselves is the call of the hour, it does not mean we cannot communicate. It is important that we seek out someone, professional or otherwise, to whom we can speak to when it feels too overwhelming.
While the pandemic compromises the physical health of those who are infected, we must also devise systems to protect the socio-psychological health and well-being of human beings. The latter will potentially have more devastating effects than the pandemic itself. Taking care of our mental health is as essential as taking care of our physical health. A basic google search will reveal several ways to cope and destress during a pandemic. Human subjectivities, preferences and concerns notwithstanding, it is important to find the ones that help you the most. You are not alone in this and most importantly, we must remember that this too shall come to pass.