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‘Mental health issues seeing sharp rise due to Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown’

By Our Correspondent
February 02, 2021

It is a completely different world we are living in now; restrictions, social distancing, series of lockdowns, increasing number of deaths, loss of jobs/incomes, and the socio-economic impact of the pandemic have a correlation with the increasing number of mental health issues.

These observations were made by Dr Afzal Siddiqui, consultant psychiatrist, Camden Primary Care, Mental Health Network, London, as he spoke on Monday during a webinar on the topic of ‘Impact of Covid-19 on Mental Health’.

The aim behind this online session, organised by Ziauddin University, was to enhance knowledge and understanding about mental health, especially in during the Covid pandemic and lockdowns, according to a press release issued by the varsity.

Dr Siddiqui said, “According to results of a survey collected from different parts of the world, during the lockdown and pandemic, anxiety percentage increased from 6.33 per cent to 50.9 per cent, depression 14.6 per cent to 48.3 per cent, posttraumatic stress disorder 7 per cent to 53.8 per cent, psychological distress 34.43 per cent to 38 per cent and stress 8.1 per cent to 81.9 per cent.”

Talking about the symptoms of depression and anxiety, he said: “There are three core symptoms: a depressed mood, lack of pleasure and interest in things they usually enjoy, decreased amount of energy for longer than two weeks, as well as other things like feeling of guilt, loss of self-esteem, pro concentrations, sleeping difficulties, changes in appetite are the symptoms of depression to look out for.

“Going to work and being a professional at this time has been completely changed. The high rate of staff sickness is leading to gaps in service provision and to staff redeployment in unfamiliar acute services. Also, the new risk to physical health, threats to survival and encounters with death are leading directly to levels of fear and anxiety, which challenge the ability to think.”

“Organisations,” he added, “should understand the impact of working during a pandemic on employees and try to address work-related stress and ways to alleviate stress in the workplace.”

Shedding light on medical management of mental health disorders during the pandemic, Dr Pia Ghosh, consultant psychiatrist eating disorders, Vincent Square, Central & North West London Trust, said, “As a psychiatrist, it’s been understood that if a person has a strong bonding with his/her psychiatrist, the chances of recovery are a lot higher and it is being affected now due to the pandemic. The access to psychological therapies is present, but has changed and become quite digital. Therapies are going on but in a virtual way. Psychotherapy, group therapy, self-harm therapy, frequent episodes of suicide attempt all these therapies are happening in a virtual sitting.”

Talking about the self-help tools for dealing with mental illness, she further said: “You can reduce stress by quitting drinking and smoking. Try mindfulness; it is effective in reducing anxiety and stress. It is very important to have regular breaks, physical activities including exercise, swimming, walk, eat well, sleep well, connect with friends and family (virtually), be kind and compassionate with yourself and others because the more we invest in our own mental health now, the more resilient it will be for the years to come.”

“A mental disorder may be present when patterns or change in thinking, feeling or behaving cause distress or disrupt a person’s ability to function. Mental health has also affected the practices because we have witnessed a lot of doctors and nurses with the high quality of anxiety, depression and symptoms of PTSD because they all are working in quite unusual, difficult and challenging circumstances,” she said while answering a question about mental health in practice during the pandemic.

Presenting her views as a moderator of the webinar, Prof Dr Rubina Hussain, FCPS., FRCOG, said the Covid-19 pandemic had disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93 per cent of countries worldwide, while the demand for mental health was increasing, according to a new WHO survey.

The survey of 130 countries provides the first global data showing the devastating impact of Covid-19 on access to mental health services and underscores the urgent need for increased funding. This is why, this is an important issue that needs to be discussed at global forums.

“If individuals who have mental illnesses get timely help, and instead of suffering in silence if they reach out and get the right help from a right person, not only will they will be able to recover soon, they can also really contribute as responsible citizens of the society,” she said.