Anxiety, Loneliness, Stigma: The Mental Health Crisis Haunting COVID-19 Ward
(3 - 9 October is Mental Health Awareness Week. FIT is republishing this article in light of it.)
(Video Producer: Puneet Bhatia, Illustrations: Arnica Kala )
(If you feel like you may have mental health issues or know someone in distress, please reach out to them with kindness and call these numbers of local emergency services, helplines, and mental health NGOs)
On Sunday, 1 November, the Union Health Ministry issued “Guidelines on Managing Mental Illness in Hospital Settings during COVID-19,” which stated that COVID-19 facilities should have a provision for psychiatric consultation. The Centre noted the links between COVID-19 and mental health where new and pre-exisiting health conditions have worsened in the pandemic.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has brought forth multiple challenges in addition to the infection itself, and mental health issues have been in the forefront.”The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare
In late August, FIT spoke to a few psychiatrists and counsellors who worked in COVID-19 wards in Mumbai to find out what happens to an infected patient's mental health, and how mental health professionals step in to help.
Dr Anindita Gangopadhya, a third-year resident in MD Psychiatry at JJ Hospital, Mumbai, recalls, “One patient asked me, ‘ Why are we being shunned from society and being put behind bars?’”
“I have a seen a patient who was very anxious, who was in tears literally begging, ‘Doctor please let me go home, I will not cough again, I will not sneeze again, I will take medication properly, just let me go away from this place!’Dr Anindita Gangopadhya, a third-year resident in MD Psychiatry at JJ Hospital, Mumbai.
Dr Anindita tells me that the increasing number of cases are creating a terror among people - despite the fatigue that seems to have crept in - people are worried about their health.
“There is a lot of anxiety,people start getting fearful reactions of how did they get it, what will happen to their life now? Are they going to live or are they going to die?”Dr Anindita Gangopadhya, a third-year resident in MD Psychiatry at JJ Hospital, Mumbai.
One of the most worrying aspects is the stigma and guilt associated with the disease, coupled with the huge amount of misinformation going around. “It is our job as pschologists in the COVID-19 ward todo regular counselling, explain the virus and their treatment to them and conduct psycho-education,” says Dr Anindita.
Dr Sumedha Tiwari, Sr. Registrar at the department of Psychiatry at Rajawadi Hospital, Mumbai says that on top of their regular corona duties, “An additional thing that I do as a physiatrist is that I ask patients about their sleep patterns if they are feeling anxious, and I address their doubts if they have any. And I also enquire about the previous psychiatric history or any history with alcohol or any substances. Because there is a tendency to discontinue psychiatric medicines and some of them rightly so, because they cause depression in your respiratory system. But others should be continued, otherwise, there will be a relapse in symptoms.
“There is some trauma experienced by patients because sometimes they see critical patients dying in front of them in a ward set-up. So that causes them to have some sleep and appetite disturbances.”Nikita Sulay, psychologist at Jagjivan Ram Hospital, Mumbai
Research suggests that depression and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in patients are worryingly high, reported PTI. There is an exacerbation of pre-exisiting psychiatric disorders, and anxieties around COVID-19 related fears like job loss and domestic violence have increased.
So the presence of mental health practitioners in COVID-19 wards is a huge boon to help calm patients down and give them hope.
(With inputs from PTI.)
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