Another Pandemic Worsened by COVID-19 The word ‘pandemic’ can seem a little too extreme to people, especially when referring to mental health. But the word ‘crisis’ seems too small, too shallow, almost empty. It does not do justice to the depth of the problem, nor to the profundity of the issue. It does not encompass all the different angles of the matter. The mental health pandemic, thus, has existed long before COVID-19 came to be known, however, the intensity of it was worsened tenfold when the 2019 pandemic hit. Although a composite and comprehensive review of why this happened could take thousands of pages; in this piece, I attempt to evaluate some of the ways in which this took place. Multiple researches have been conducted to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown on the lives of ordinary people and their emotional well-being. I divide people into three separate categories for the sake of this article: healthcare workers, women, and common people. Even though the mental health of all people has been affected, dividing them into groups like this helps us understand the causes in a more relevant manner. In a study by Hayat, Khezar et al., they took a look at the reasons for increased anxiety, depression, and distress levels amongst healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The reasons for this are plenty. With up to hundreds of people dying in one day, and thousands more getting diagnosed, it can take a toll on any frontline worker’s well-being and mental stability. Dealing with an ever-growing number of patients while constantly being in fear for your own health is not an easy state to live in. Seeing a vast number of people die in your hands and in front of your eyes everyday can affect an individual to an extent which one can not imagine if one has not lived through it. (Hayat et al. 2021) Healthcare workers had to undergo an excessively dramatic shift in their working patterns. The hours increased, and so did the precautions one took before seeing a patient. Even above and beyond, many healthcare workers had to socially isolate themselves from their loved ones for most part of the day, to keep them intact from the risk of infection. Even when they allowed themselves to see their families, it would not be before they put themselves through an extreme routine of sanitation. These ‘extremities’ became the everyday norm for all these workers. (Hayat et al. 2021) Yet they continue to wake up and push through everyday, despite the backlash they often face from the general public due to various reasons. In their study, Hayat, Khezar et al. ask for interventions from the government to provide psychological support to these healthcare workers. A doctor, nurse, or any other healthcare worker pushed to work without the relevant support in this time could fall further into a mental health crisis. It is important that we launch specific programs aimed at this strata of our population that focus on aiding them in their relevant problems. Our healthcare workers have done a non-repayable service to us in this hour of need, and it is essential that they atleast get the adequate support for the imprint it left on them. (Hayat et al. 2021) Women have, in general, shown a higher risk of being prone to depression and anxiety during previous pandemics and disease outbreaks. It is so because women live such multifaceted lives that an added negative factor like this can severely impact in it. With many women, the
lockdown meant that their abusive husbands would now be at home all day. The added pressures on the mental health of these men often made them find a target to take it out on – the women in their homes. For women, for whom getting out of the house (either for a job, education, or just to meet their friends) was an escape, they lost this safety net. In a third world country like Pakistan, which already has multiple risk factors solely affecting women, a pandemic can alarmingly aggravate the situation for them. For married women, because their husbands, kids, and other family members were now home all day, they lost the very little space they had to themselves and had to dedicate 24 hours of their day towards catering for others. Situations like these lead to a steep decline in the emotional well-being of women all around the country. A study was also done on this specific matter which found higher levels of anxiety and depression among women during the pandemic. (Asim et al. 2021) When we find psychosocial support solutions for women, we need to keep in mind the extra barriers they might face while approaching therapy and other support forms. Which is why it is essential that we also come up with solutions that are online and can be delivered through other mediums such as a telephone. Catering to specific women’s concerns ensures that we are able to come up with more relevant solutions that address all aspects of a woman’s mental health problems in Pakistan. Lastly, when it comes to common people, it is all of this combined. People had their entire lives snatched away from them. Everything they found joy in, everything that made them happy, everything that gave a purpose to their life, just lost, just like that, in a second. The first phase of the pandemic was spent in a denial. Everyday people would wake up and hope for this misery to be over soon, and when it did not end as soon as it was expected to, people’s well-being just took a hit. Being confined in your home everyday, and to your room if you got diagnosed, was a nightmare. Social isolation for social beings like us was an event that broke us to our cores. Levels of distress and anxiety significantly rose in people during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the question is, is that the only problem? Psychologist Adam Grant came up with this term languishing – to describe the feeling of emptiness we all felt during this time. The idea is that the simple absence of a disorder does not equate to a healthy mind. Due to the level to which the pandemic altered our lives, a lot of people just lost interest and went numb. They weren’t depressed, but they weren’t exactly emotionally healthy either. Languishing is a feeling that persists even into 2021, even as we move towards a (hopeful) end of the pandemic, people have lost a lot of hope and desire they had for life. Life is moving, but we still feel like we are at a halt, like there is no meaning, no aim anymore. (Grant 2021) The reason we identify the feeling is so that we can work towards finding a solution for it. So that we know, that in our studies and the subsequent solutions, we do not just cater to the population that shows up on the mental disorder scale, but also the ones that do not. The COVID-19 pandemic demands that we alter the way we approach the question of mental health support policies. We need to expand our horizons to cater to a wider group of people, and to find our specific ‘why’ of focusing on them.
As we move towards a decline in the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential that we do not neglect the lasting impacts it had on the emotional state of all those who lived through it. The government’s Mental Health and Psychosocial Support for COVID-19 program under the Ministry of Planning is the first step towards this, but it should not be the only one. We have forsaken this problem for far too long. And this pandemic demanded that we take a look inside and address the elephant in the room. If we do not come up with adequate initiatives now, the situation is only going to get worse. The COVID-19 pandemic was able to be curbed by some level, because we started working from day 1. If we had not, we would be looking at much more drastic effects right now. Can we say the same for the mental health pandemic? I don’t think so.
Asim, Shabnam S., Samrah Ghani, Maheen Ahmed, Anushae Asim, and Fatima Qureshi. 2021.
“Assessing Mental Health of Women Living in Karachi During the Covid-19 Pandemic.”
Frontiers in Global Women’s Health 1:24. 10.3389/fgwh.2020.594970.
Grant, Adam. 2021. “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing.”
Hayat et al. 2021. “Impact of COVID-19 on the Mental Health of Healthcare Workers: A
Cross-Sectional Study From Pakistan.” Frontiers in Public Health 9, no. 603602. (April):