Corona’s attack on mental health
Bon Jovi is a rock star with millions of fans. Self isolated in New Jersey with his family, he decided to contribute. Through community kitchens they distribute food to the needy. COVID-19 has caused a shortage of workers. He decided to help as a dish washer. A step down for a star loved by millions onstage. His wife captured the moment on camera. Asked “what you doin?” Bon Jovi replied “If you can’t do what you do, you do what you can!” A simple answer saying much, it has gone viral and is the title of his new song.
It’s a way to keep sane. Maintaining mental health is vital, as important as physical health. It is a much ignored area. These are weird times when our way of life is crumbling in front of us, and we can’t do anything about it. It is distressing, unsettling and causing extreme levels of anxiety.
COVID-19 is spreading like fire on dry grass with wind behind it. No one is immune. Countries around the world are at various levels of lockdown or self isolation. Health workers are suffering from exhaustion, both emotional and physical. There is no respite in sight, without cure or vaccine.
The infected are dying without dear one standing close, funerals are without family. Health workers sleep in garage to avoid infecting their families. Life as we knew it is in total disarray and under assault. What is it leading to? This anguish is seriously challenging our emotional and mental well being.
Millions of jobs have been lost. Unemployment is soaring. Poor Pakistanis have no savings. Restricted, how will they feed their families? Businesses are falling like nine pins. A friend of mine is a “Host” for Air BnB. He leveraged his house and his assets to buy ten properties. Now these properties are empty and all mortgages past due. He could lose everything built over decades. Last week he wanted to end his life! We talked him out of it for now; but there are millions of similar cases around the world.
Being cooped up at home is turning into a pressure cooker. Fear evokes different reactions. At times it is anger. Some folks are turning violent. There is a huge spike in domestic violence, 30 to 70% in some countries. It is being called a “domestic abuse pandemic”. Vulnerable partners are forced to spend time with their abusers. After two murders, France has started paying for hotel rooms for the victims. There are too many dark tales to share in one article.
The answer is simple. COVID-19 spreads through contact and droplets. If we maintain physical distance (min 6 feet) to allow droplets to fall to the ground and avoid touching surfaces in public places, this damn thing will disappear in 4 weeks. Instead we are opting for anxiety and distress.
I spoke to my friend, Dr. Nauman Qureshi, a renowned psychologist. Western educated, with wide experience having practiced in Canada and Pakistan. He explained that self isolation is, at best, an intervention strategy. It will work in the short term – stop the spread. Working from home over time has diminishing returns. It strains relationships, and leads to substance abuse. His solution: Accept new realities and adjust. Seek small joys that please and distract you. Exercise, grow vegetables, read, most important keep hoping.
Dr. Sohail Abbas, another psychologist friend, earned his PhD from France and has 30+ years of experience in Pakistan and Canada. His take, COVID-19 has created paranoia and uncertainty. Restrictions lead to viewing those who look different as potential enemies. Anger at the Chinese in the US or Shias in Pakistan is a manifestation of this fear.
He elaborated that when an individual’s habit equilibrium is disturbed, it causes anxiety, depression and in some cases PTSD disorders. It is huge. People have to manage this change. Reach out for help or give help and heal others. It gives satisfaction. Make a three-month timeline. This will give a new horizon.
My friend, Dr. Anis Shehzad, a family physician in Canada, counseled using this time to bond with the family while avoiding arguments. Plan the future with your family and stay active physically.
All three doctors strongly advised to break the habit of news addiction, curtail TV and social media watching on COVID-19.
In Pakistan we still have the family structure intact. It is a huge blessing. The most challenged are those who are alone. Let us focus on positive things. Our environment is improving, ozone is recovering, waterways are cleaner and pollution is down.
I have great faith in human ingenuity, science, scientists and the good within people. Nations are galvanizing to overcome this humungous challenge.
Dr. James Crowe, in US, has isolated the virus cell, recovering anti bodies from infected and cured patients. He and his manufacturers hope to produce a cure by June. View everything in a three-month horizon. Industries are churning out masks, protective gears and respirators using innovative techniques. The power engines of economic revival will start.
Generosity is kicking in. The wealthy are contributing, food is being provided. Pakistani elite, as always, is behind the curve. They have to step up at this time of distress and help heal their neighbors, their families and friends. Please hear Dr. Amjad Saqib of Akhuwat’s message being circulated. Solutions are there, we just need to find them. Mobilize now, believe me this too shall pass. For now as Bon Jovi says “Do what you can!”