KARACHI: “It is a completely different world we are living in now, restrictions, social distancing, series of lockdowns, increasing number of deaths, loss of jobs, and the socio-economic impact of a pandemic has a correlation with the increasing number of mental health cases.
According to the survey results collected from different parts of the world, during the lockdown and pandemic, anxiety percentage increased from 6.33% to 50.9%, depression from 14.6% to 48.3%, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from 7% to 53.8%, psychological distress from 34.43% to 38%, and stress from 8.1% to 81.9%,” said Dr Afzal Siddiqui, Consultant Psychiatrist, Camden Primary Care, Mental Health Network London.
He said this while addressing the “Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health” webinar organized by the Ziauddin University during the first webinar of the psych live webinar interactive series. The aim behind this online session was to enhance the knowledge and understanding of mental health, especially in the time duration of the pandemic and lockdown.
While talking about the symptoms of depression and anxiety, Dr Afzal Siddiqui 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. Other things like the feeling of guilt, loss of self-esteem, pro-concentrations, sleeping difficulties, and changes in appetite, are also 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 a gap 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. Organizations 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,” he added.
Shedding light on the 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 has 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. 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 setting.”
Talking about the self-help tools of mental illness, she noted, “You can reduce stress by quitting drinking and smoking. Try mindfulness as it is effective in reducing anxiety and stress. It is very important to take regular breaks, indulge in physical activity such as exercise, swimming, walking, eating well, sleeping well, connecting with friends and family (virtually), and being 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 of thinking, feeling, or behaving cause distress or disrupt a person’s ability to function. Mental health has also affected practice because we have witnessed a lot of doctors and nurses with high levels of anxiety, depression, and symptoms of PTSD because they all are working in quite unusual, difficult, and challenging circumstances,” she said, in response to a question on mental health in practice during a pandemic.
Presenting her views as a moderator of the webinar, Prof Dr Rubina Hussain, FCPS, FRCOG, said that the COVID-19 pandemic had disrupted critical mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide while the demand for mental health is increasing, according to a new WHO survey.
The survey of 130 countries provide 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.
“Individuals with mental illnesses, if they get timely help instead of suffering in silence, if they reach out and get the right help from the right person, not only will they be able to recover faster, but they will also contribute to becoming responsible citizens of society,” she added.