By: Fatima Faisal
We’re at war – at war with an invisible, microscopic enemy that the eye can’t see but also one that the mind can’t ignore. In a world grappled with fear and uncertainty in the wake of this pandemic, and where life has virtually come to a halt, what do panic-stricken people, unemployed daily wagers and overstressed doctors share in common? The answer, in a nutshell, is deteriorating mental health. We see cases soaring to alarmingly-high figures, while hapless humans fail to flatten the curve. From feeds on social media to daily conversations with our (virtually) near ones, everything’s centered around the virus and its impending danger. Lives are at risk, healthcare systems are exhausted, governments are worked up, academia suffer, stock markets are crashing, and the list goes long. In short, no sphere of life is left undisturbed, but we know which one has been affected the most. Therefore, be it the adverse health effects, the social implications of hardcore lockdown or the economic crunch that the world has drifted into, the mental health problems arising from the disease are arguably bigger and broader than the physical disease itself. From a biological perspective, even this “physical” disease is clinically proven to push the body into stress, as the brain releases stress hormones, causing fatigue, irritability and failure to cope in majority of cases; a clear decline in mental health. An unhealthy body, indeed an unhealthier mind. Point being, even if we consider it solely a physical disease, there is enough science-backed evidence to believe it will ultimately affect psychological health. Some ( immunocompromised ) are more prone to catch the disease, and if not that, then merely fear of doing so has taken a terrible toll on their mental health. It’s true that COVID19 has, till date, claimed lives of thousands of people, but there are millions more who have been plunged into fear as death looms large. Only a small percentage of those infected would die, but majority of the whole world’s population (accounting for billions ) has already drowned in fear. (Figures like these sound terrifying when we already know that a person was dying of suicide every forty seconds, even before this outbreak). This brings the debate to social stressors. Authorities imposed hardcore lockdown to curb the current crisis, bringing social and recreational activities to a standstill. In one of the greatest paradoxes of our time, the modern man has never before needed to be in ( metaphorically) tighter social embrace than now but is somehow deprived of the same. Ironically, the true way of showing love to your loved ones is to distance yourself from them, which is proven to trigger depressive episodes. Also, not just parks and malls, but schools too have been closed raising concern in majority students, while teachers have to walk extra miles to make distant learning effective, reporting more stress. Not just that, even people’s psychospiritual health has to suffer as a consequence of religious activities being limited. Studies reveal that restricted travel, self isolation during quarantine and the decrease in socialization among “social animals” has led to an unprecedented rise in frustration, irritability and emotional stress in people who feel literally “incarcerated”.Hence proven, measures to curtail the current calamity have further aggravated the mental health crisis by keeping us away from positive things at a time we need them the most. The economic downfall that follows has had a psychological impact as well. Locking down markets etc has led to inadequate supply of essentials, creating chaos. “It’s a recession as bad as the Global Financial Crisis”, says IMF’s head, “and the worst since World War II”. Economies have come to a screeching halt, productions are low and sectors like airline and tourism have especially been hit hard, leaving –within a month- 20.2 million jobless in the US alone. One can only imagine the mental pressure on governments and frontline healthcare-workers amidst dwindling resources, whereas the pressure on those having lost their source of income is something we, in our comfort zones, can’t ever imagine. The misery caused by this pandemic, owing to biological, social and economic stressors – among several others – helps us conclude that the true nature of this problem is not merely physical. In fact, the pandemic of fear and depression is far more contagious and deadly, making the current crisis more of a psychological one. Those who think mental health is only a trivial matter during testing times like these should understand that it is, in fact, one that matters the most when it comes to fighting-and hopefully winning- the battle. So, instead of ruining our health by stressing over things we can’t control, we should stay positive by supporting eachother, redefining the true meaning of life, re-orienting our focus towards what truly matters, all this along with taking the necessary precautions. In times of collective grief, we all have something to lose, but also a lot to give; ie hope. Let’s rekindle the flickering flame of hope; let’s be emotionally strong and remind ourselves that this too shall pass, hopefully bringing about a change for the better by making us grow through what we have to go through.