The mental dimension of COVID-19 was not realised early in the onset of the pandemic. The prevalence of mental difficulties associated with this disease cannot be ignored. A few salient problems are briefly described below.
When a person was diagnosed with COVID-19, no relative would visit such a family as would have been done in other disease settings. It created mental tensions on both sides. Fortunately, many of the families having such patients did not expect relatives to visit them. It was worst when such people died, with most relatives keeping away from the funerals.
Stigma was the other problem identified. Because of the ease of spread among the general population, doctors and nurses who worked with COVID care were shunned and some house owners asked such tenants to vacate their homes.
Fear of the disease and the associated admissions into intensive care units with loss of contact with loved ones was one of the major problems faced. This fear made many to hide their suspected diseased state and refused to seek early diagnosis and treatment, resulting in deaths.
Managing COVID-19 deaths was another frightening experience. The number of persons who could participate in such a funeral was limited. Relatives had to stand far away from the actual funeral site. This caused severe mental trauma as the usual closure associated with a normal funeral could not take place.
Schools were closed and children had online classes conducted. While it appeared to be like an extended holiday like situation, over time it brought in tensions within homes. Children were becoming addicted to online activities beyond just classes. Conflicts, abuse including sexual abuse began to occur.
More than online classes it was work from home that created the major mental problems. Along with work from home, many lost their jobs. Prolonged loss of jobs meant anxiety and tension in paying mortgage, house rent and over time even obtaining food. Unable to bear the tension, some families committed suicide as a whole.
The lock down in many countries resulted in loss of small businesses. They found it difficult to get back even after the lock down was lifted. They went through similar problems as those who lost jobs above. The images of migrant workers walking long distances have been etched in our memory.
Even in villages where the disease was not widely prevalent, the economic downturn affected them as well as much of the labour was lost. They struggled for food as many others, being anxious about from where their next meal would come from.
The last point was brought out forcefully, when the organisation I work with was able to arrange food and essential supplies to some of the poor tribal families we served. What a sense of relief and satisfaction in their faces as they received twenty kilos of rice besides other food stuffs!
I want to share my own experience. One of my close relatives, much younger than me contracted the disease. He was very careful in not taking any risks. Probably he let down the guard only once and the disease attacked him. His son and some other family members provided all the support. Because of seeking delayed treatment, he died. I never visited him even once, not even for the funeral. Even his only sister and family never visited throughout.
I appeared to be bearing it well. I provided all the professional support over the telephone. But I could not carry out the routine tasks I was used to carrying out. This was a subtle but definite mental affect of the COVID-19 disease. However, as a family we were a source of mental support to the family during the disease, funeral and afterwards. There was always a question, whether we did the right thing.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of people in a number of ways. Although the mental effects are not clearly visible, they have caused untold hardships to individuals and families worldwide. Such families need mental support and counsel as they get back to their normal life.