The start of year 2020 witnessed the beginning of the “Corona World Order” with social distancing, isolations, quarantines and massive lockdowns. Covid-19, characterized by unique and devastating levels of stress and anxieties, has so far put up an unattainable challenge to contemporary medical science. Available data reveals that around one out of every six people, who contract Covid-19, becomes seriously ill; whereas the psychological impact of the pandemic is much more colossal.
Doctors and paramedics confronting the pandemic on the frontline are the first victim of the catastrophic strain. As one doctor told the BBC, “The stress was intense; seeing people die is not the issue. We’re trained to deal with deaths. The issue is giving up on people we wouldn’t normally give up on.” Arthur Marksman, a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas, Austin, says: “Few people in healthcare have had real-life experience with triage in which a significant number of life-and-death decisions had to be made because of equipment shortages. That increases the chances that they may experience moral injury as a result of their jobs”. The exceptional scenarios may lead to haunting states of inner conflict and turmoil, particularly for paramedics facing the Covid-19 outbreak on the frontlines.
The infotainment media, on the other hand, shapes the environment that further amplifies the horrification of the disease, hence it acts as a force multiplier under the current environment. A number of conspiracy theories, fake news, rumours and disinformation surrounding the pandemic are scaremongering and aggravating the agony of already distressed people. Some people obsess about it which can result in mental saturation and overload. Anxiety levels begin to rise with the uncertainty of it all.
Pakistan, a country of over 220 million people, with the Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.562, one of the lowest in the world, and about 25pc of the population living below poverty line, has also announced a partial lockdown since March 22, after a countrywide outbreak of the disease. The pandemic is already fast draining the global and national economies and has imposed a harsh reality of bereavement, ailment and unemployment across the globe. Prolong exposure to lockdowns; social distancing and quarantines may render the world populace to complex psychological disorders, including emotional disturbance, depression, stress, low mood, irritability, avoidance, fear, insomnia along with post-traumatic stress symptoms. Society may also become more selfish while already existing religious, social, ethnic and political prejudices may aggravate to devastating levels.
The world we live in today may appear entirely different in the post-Covid-19 scenario where the psychological wellbeing of mentally-fatigued communities with minimal hope, feeble conviction and damaged belief systems would be the real tough task. Post traumatic growth, therefore, must be realized through a strong sense of meaning and purpose for overcoming major life events. We need to understand that the coronavirus is a stark reminder by the Creator that we are not individuals. We are interlinked, interconnected and dependent on each other. Empathy and care must be shown, particularly for the vulnerable populations.
We need to be concerned, not panicked. Preventative, rather than reactionary measures, have to be implemented. A more stringent, focused and uniformed approach both at conceptual and functional levels is, therefore, the way forward. Besides the provision of outright empathetic support, it is imperative that health professionals on the frontlines must be trained on stress management, to mitigate the fallout. Uninterrupted supply chains of basic needs must be ensured with conservation and reallocation plans, particularly during lockdowns; while ensuring dignity and honour of the people. The concept of telemedicine is required to be evolved with the availability of doctors and psychiatrists at a single click for immediate medical and mental healthcare. We may also be a little more cautious in discussing the pandemic-related issues in front of children.
To curb panic, people need to feel a sense of control. A sense must also be promoted amongst the masses to obtain information from reliable sources only to curb the tendency of rumours and fake news. Audience-specific “objective infotainment” broadcast is needed to entertain and keep their aesthetics intact. Public health officials must be encouraged to provide rapid, clear messages delivered effectively for the entire affected population for the accurate understanding of the situation.
Psychological wellbeing in the post-Covid-19 scenario with society at large showing post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) would, therefore, be a challenge much larger than the pandemic itself. Cohesion, integration and harmonization are the prescription. But are we capable of the sustainable behavioural change?