TODAY -

Challenges in responding to COVID-19 pandemic
and taking care of our Mental Health in the time of a pandemic

Dr. Gobin Chabungbam *



The current pandemic of COVID- 19 has resulted in varied responses and reactions by both governments and general public all over the world. From initial indifference and dismissal as 'just another flu' by many, including some world leaders and even health professionals, we are at a stage where majority of the world population are in some kind of lockdown situation.

India is no different and is currently in such a situation. For a country like India, of 1.3 billion population with poor healthcare infrastructure and limited resources, it is a disaster in waiting if it cannot be prevented or slow down with early intervention and restrictions.

That's the reason why social restrictions and social distancing is so important at this time. Although there may be many legitimate questions on both Government of India and Government of Manipur's responses to this crisis, some of the responses seem to be proactive and sensible.

In such an unprecedented situation, it is very important that the general population follow the advices and instructions of not only the experts but also the government. It appears that doctors and health care workers in Manipur face some unique challenges in facing this crisis.

Some of these are the 'usual' but serious issues like lack of personal protective equipment, inadequate training and preparedness (especially among the junior medical staffs and other healthcare workers) and shortage of beds and ventilators. These are more of hospital administrative and bureaucratic issues where the doctors have very little control over.

If someone has to take responsibility for such a poor state of affairs of our healthcare system, it has to be the bureaucratic and political class. The doctors and other healthcare workers who are in the frontline of patient care are the least responsible.

There were reports of some incidents of doctors and healthcare workers being ostracised or prevented attending to their work. If it is true then it is really unfortunate. There is already a lack of trust between the doctors and the public in general. It is understandable that people react apparently 'irrationally' in such a situation out of fear and anxiety and to have some control over the situation.

However, we have to recognise that such actions against the doctors and healthcare workers is like shooting at our own feet and have to be condemned strongly and to be prevented from happening again. It is just a common sense that we take care of the front line 'soldiers' who are fighting this 'war'. They are the ones who will have a high risk of exposer to the virus and some may die from it.

It is highly likely that the hospitals and doctors and healthcare workers will be overburdened, overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted. It is also highly likely that doctor and healthcare worker shortage will only get worse because of their own illnesses and need to care for their sick families. Managing such a situation and providing supports to them will be a significant challenge.

The last thing they would expect in such a situation is the negative attitude towards them from the public. Another challenge is likely to be in enforcing the restrictions and social distancing rules especially in a society like ours where there is very little regard for following rules or laws.

There is the tendency for our people to take law into our own hands e.g. putting barriers on the roads. It will be hard to manage this when the restrictions continue further. There are also quite a lot of misinformation and ignorance among the general public. It will be critical to educate the public and provide clear and simple messages to them.

This should include, for example, the reasons for the restrictions and social distancing to protect the vulnerable people, the meaning and importance of 'flattening the curve', addressing myths and superstitions related to the COVID-19 quickly (e.g. role of homeopathic treatment, group religious prayers).

How to take care of our mental health during a pandemic

It is inevitable that this pandemic will cause a significant toll on the mental health of the people affected especially in the later stages of the pandemic, not only because of the direct effects of death and illnesses but also because of the social and economic consequences.

Even at this early stage, there are lots of fear and anxiety among the people. This is only going to get worse with the continued and prolonged restrictions and lockdowns. So it is very important to take care of our mental health as remaining mentally healthy will help in fighting the virus.

There are some basic self-care you can practice while we are in such a situation:
Try to have a regular routine even if you are not going for work or study.
Engage in some activities or hobbies that can be done at home e.g. gardening.
Continue to access nature and sunlight wherever possible.
Try to get enough quality sleep as it's good for your immune system.
Avoid using alcohol or illicit drugs to cope with boredom or stress.
Regular physical exercise will help you in calming down and may boost your immune function.
Try some relaxation, meditation and mindfulness activities as well.

Being physically isolated doesn't have to mean that we're cut off socially too and you can use video chatting, phone calls, email, text or instant messaging, social media, hobby chat to talk to friends and relatives. This will help you in reducing the negative psychological effects from isolation.

You can stay informed by accessing only reliable source of information, but try to limit media exposure as this may have more negative impact and increase your anxiety.

In conclusion, some people may say that we are overreacting and Indian condition can be quite different from a country like Italy or USA. This may turn out to be true.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in US said, "I like it when people are thinking I'm overreacting because that means we're doing it just right."

It is better to err by overreacting than underpreparing because the consequences of not preparing will be a human disaster. It is a matter of life and death .


* Dr. Gobin Chabungbam MD, FRANZCP wrote this article for Imphal Times
This article was webcasted on April 09 2020.



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