Becoming an inclusive society in COVID times
So, how do we respond to these lasting changes? Will we as a community evolve to become more united or will we become indifferent? How can we really pull together, in these testing times of today?
Think it over: as a mental health expert, I have been asked several times -- 'How will people and societies change and grow in the wake of the pandemic? We don't have a concrete answer yet. But one thing that we can be certain about, is that the virus will continue to test our mental strength and relationships. It will aggravate existing inequalities in society, push us for greater sustainability and demand new ways for us to survive, and thrive in the coming times.
So, how do we respond to these lasting changes? Will we as a community evolve to become more united or will we become indifferent to others? How can we really pull together, in these testing times of today?
The impact of COVID on mental health: The past 8-9 months of the pandemic have compelled us to change our life and lifestyle completely. In this process, initially we have experienced stress, fear and anxiety. For those who couldn't deal with the stress and anxiety, it further worsened, dragging them into depression. This kind of depression mainly affects two kinds of people - ones who already had problems prior to the pandemic, and new cases who are experiencing stress and anxiety due to the present situational problems. The ones having problems prior to the pandemic are the ones who become more vulnerable in this situation. This vulnerable section relapses when stress increases in their lives. It is important that these patients communicate their problems, reach out to experts, and seek help.
Now, we also talk about the 'COVID fatigue' that most of us are experiencing today. The sense of acting responsibly for over 10 months has also caused fatigue. People are left to take difficult decisions on whether they would die of the virus, or die of economic burdens, forcing many to act negligently, keeping their guard down. Therefore, it is paramount for us experts, to create awareness about the continued importance of Covid Appropriate Behaviour, and mental health needs of people in these tough times.
How can societies respond to COVID-induced mental health issues? As a society, we have seen that the initial reactions to the crisis have been humanitarian. We saw people came forward to help the less fortunate, and that is a great way to build a strong society, as it benefits both giver and the receiver. The sense of purpose in life and the fulfilment of the same, is something that givers experience. It is a genuinely positive feeling. The receivers feel equally blessed. It also teaches us that when we reach out to people with kindness and sensitivity, we are also activating the happy hormones in our body.
The human factor to deal with mental health issue: This humanitarian approach works extremely well on improving our psychological immunity and counters our stress hormones. In this period, people who have gone through COVID or rather who have learnt from these experiences have evolved from their fear zone -- to the learning zone -- finally experiencing the growth zone! And in the growth phase, you learn to use your experience for the benefit of others. You learn to help, reach out and teach others, this being the final evolving, during these pandemic times. And that is what we should all aim to achieve.
The magic of social media: Virtual platforms have been quite instrumental in improving mental health among people during the pandemic, the many webinars organised are proof of the same. Video calls with friends and family, has given us a sense of connectivity and belonging, with our loved ones, shrinking distances and differences. Relishing in u-tube guided activity sessions, movie-mania and music marathon, has been the flavour of fun and festivities. However, let's not forget, balance is beautiful... this applies to social media too! Tele-counselling for distress calls, and tele-consultation has been utilized maximum, to deal with mental health issues. This is the time where we learn to give importance to the smaller yet more significant aspects of our lives - time, relationships, self-development, kindness, peace, learning and more!
The way forward: The time has come, where we are evolving together as a community. The effort that we all must take is to ensure that the lessons we have learnt in this pandemic will remain with us. Let these lessons learned not go in vain... as we move forward, may they become our foundation to a buoyant society -- sensible, yet sensitive, proactive and progressive, yet inclusive... and stable- mind, body and soul!
(The author is Consultant Psychiatrist, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan and Convenor, Indian Psychiatric Society Taskforce for Covid-19 mental health care)
As told to Puja Gupta
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