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October 24, 2020

‘Suicidal ideation up by 35pc during Covid-19 pandemic, effects to last for a decade’

Karachi

October 24, 2020

Suicidal ideation or thoughts of committing suicide have increased by 35 per cent during the Covid-19 pandemic all over the world due to economic uncertainty and depression, while symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), growing incidence of depression, anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia are also being observed among people, said an eminent US-based psychiatrist and researcher.

“The effects of this ongoing [Covid-19] trauma are expected to last at least for a decade or even more as single-day incidents of mass shootings, explosions and disasters continue to traumatise people for several years. Emergency room visits by people with mental health issues have already increased by 30-35 per cent in the United States and other parts of the world,” said Prof Dr Asim Shah, executive vice chair of psychiatry at the Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, USA, while delivering a talk in Karachi on Thursday.

The talk on “Implications of Covid-19 on Mental Health” was organised by the Children’s Hospital Karachi at a hotel and it was attended by eminent Pakistani psychiatrists, physicians, sportsmen and people from other walks of society.

Prof Shah was of the view that the mental health impacts of the pandemic could be compared to the “massive depression” after the two world wars when millions of people suffered and also faced the recession depression. He added that children could be the most affected segment of society due to the pandemic all over the world.

“It is feared that Covid-19 would transform the personalities of people, especially children and teenagers, as they are uncertain about their future. In addition to insomnia, anxiety, depression and PTSD, a sense of fear and anxiety could become the integral part of people’s personalities,” he said and added that uncertain living conditions could even lead to psychotic symptoms or episodes among some people.

Talking about the effects of the pandemic on children, Prof Shah said personalities of children continued to develop till 18 years of age, and due to uncertain conditions, stress and anxiety, they would be the most affected class of society, whose personalities would be transformed completely, and these effects could last for a decade, or even more.

He said effects of the 9/11 attacks continued to haunt the people of the United States for seven to eight years although it was a one-day incident. He said Covid-19 was an ongoing trauma, which was continuing although people had now started to live with and many people had started ignoring SOPs.

“Following panic and insomnia, anxiety that leads to depression, the worst mental health issue faced by people is PTSD. These mental health issues are resulting in suicidal ideation as many people think life is not worth living.”

Prof Shah said the solution to these issues was having close family ties and seeking mental health support from experts.

The coronavirus also resulted in touch-deprivation or touch-starvation, he said, adding that touching each other, shaking hands and hugging others released a hormone called oxytocin, which was also known as “cuddle hormone”. “When we touch each other, this hormone is released in our bodies and it promotes feeling of trust, devotion and bonding, but due to touch-deprivation, people are lacking these feelings.”

Another eminent psychiatrist and Pakistan Psychiatrist Society president, Prof Iqbal Afridi, said that although the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in many negative impacts on the health and economy of people, it also did some good things, which included improvement in the environment as 30 per cent pollution had reduced, and people had started giving importance to human relations. “The most important thing which improved was the importance of healthcare workers, including doctors and nurses. People also started considering them heroes too. It also highlighted the importance of psychiatry and mental health issues,” Prof Afridi added.

The CEO of the Children’s Hospital Dr Saqib Ansari, Olympian Islahuddin, MNA Iqbal Muhammad Ali and others also spoke.