The impact Covid-19 on mental health, besides physical, is not unknown at this point. According to WHO, there has been an alarming increase in stress, anxiety and depression due to isolation, loss of income and fear of the virus – irrespective of age, gender and background, around the world.
Though it can be predicted that such issues will be mitigated as soon as people start to return to their everyday life, there will be exceptions, including anxiety and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).
The world will be different when Covid-19 ends, or more precisely when the lockdown eases. But, there will still be the urge to maintain safety: wearing masks, avoiding gatherings, regularly sanitising hands and so on. There will also be a change in our behaviour and how we socialise.
After spending almost a year in quarantine, the return to face-to-face social interaction will practically be like a 'new skill to acquire' for some people. The condition may seem absurd for many, but there has been evidence of rising social anxiety related to it.
Jumana (pseudonym), a student of North South University, says she feels anxious while visiting the grocery store or shopping mall and is always in a rush to return home. She is often worried whether people nearby are affected by coronavirus or whether she is behaving appropriately enough to make others feel safe, and so on.
Anxiety refers to the constant urge of worrying, i.e., racing thoughts, which also have physical impacts, including chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, etc. There are several categories under anxiety, crucial among which is "social anxiety". Social anxiety is the fear of being judged, always worrying about one's social actions, etc. The loss of certainty and reassurance increases the level of such feelings.
The pandemic, however, elevated the existing cases and opened newer ones. This is because it has redefined social norms and etiquettes, even deducted a few, such as greeting with hugs, handshakes, etc. The level of physical interaction has also been dulled with masked faces, making it difficult to predict the others' facial expression.
There are concerns about the distance one should maintain in a queue, whether or not wearing a mask is mandatory while visiting the rooftop or a garden, whom should you invite in the house, whether or not your colleagues are affected, etc. Questions arise in mind, along with confusion and uncertainty. Sometimes this also leads to total avoidance of specific interactions and generates panic.
There are related physical health consequences that may arise due to such conditions: lack of sleep, struggle in decision making, rigid daily routine, irritated mood, rise in palpitation, etc. And in most cases, when even acknowledging certain mental health matters is considered taboo, and most people are not even aware of these issues, they tend to suffer from mentioned health problems for a long time without realising the main reason behind their troubles.
Another lasting effect of a pandemic can be obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The core traits include repetitive thoughts and obsessions over certain circumstances, and repetitive actions to mitigate the anxiety. For example, the most common feature can be considered as repeatedly washing hands, continually checking the news for regular updates, extreme intolerance to uncertainty, persistent fear of being sick and so on.
Initially, it might seem helpful in dealing with the virus; however, with time, it may rise to a level where patients isolate themselves and suffer from loneliness, unable to concentrate on work. As a result, they panic significantly and face related physical health problems. Obsessions may increase with time, and untreated OCD can have a severe impact on one's life along with their close ones.
The conditions mentioned above are closely associated with quarantined life. Whenever I ask my acquaintances whether they feel these things, most of them give a positive response. Almost 90 percent of people in a survey, informally conducted by a reputed mental health group on Facebook, agreed that they were experiencing such lasting traits among themselves. The first step towards recovering requires accepting the issue, habituating one towards uncertainty, acknowledging the changes and having faith in oneself. There are also some online counselling websites and pages available for everyone, which are helpful for psychological well-being.
Mental health illnesses are considered a taboo in most parts of the world, Bangladesh being no exception. There is little chance of being accepted as a mental patient in our society, let alone the availability of treatment. Though the pandemic affected us in numerous disastrous ways, it has also helped us to be attentive to long-lasting mental health issues and their consequences when left untreated.
Rufaida Shafiq Aaneela is a student of development studies, University of Dhaka.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.