The Coronavirus pandemic has tested us not just physically, but also mentally. Each day brings to people a new challenge for an individual’s mental health. Even when one is not directly affected by the virus, the fear of getting infected never leaves us. This fear comes in different forms and for different reasons. Having to cope with work, along with keeping our minds and body healthy is one of the biggest challenges. In a world of “But everyone’s going through the same”, let’s try to say, “Your feelings are valid.”
Coronavirus has impacted people by distancing not just from their friends, family and relatives but the rules and restrictions in place make it tougher to earn livelihood in such economically difficult times. In the US, 32% of adults said to have experienced feelings related to depression and anxiety in the year 2020 as compared to 11% in 2019. This number increased further and stands at 41.1% in January 2021.
The effect of the pandemic has been different amongst different age groups. Let us look at how different segments have been affected:
Decline in mental health amidst young adults due to increased pressures of online classes and remote work
Student or young adults were severely affected in these times due to the closing of universities/colleges/institutes. Having to adjust to a completely different mode of education definitely took a toll on their mental health. This, with the added stress of the conditions at home, is also something that needs to be taken into consideration. Most educational institutions were not able to adjust to this change in due time and were not seen taking steps to make the online environment more conducive for the students. Hardly any attention was paid to the fact that every student does not have the same environment at home. Inevitably, various distractions come into play when one tries to work from home.
The shift to a completely digital world also resulted in a fall in physical activities, which plays an important role maintaining in mental wellbeing. Youngsters, during the pandemic, reported having a completely messed up sleep schedule, an increased amount of time spent in front of screens and an extreme lack of interest while performing various tasks. A study which was undertaken in October-November 2020 in India, found that out of those who were surveyed, 99% of the participants were going through one or more issues related to mental health. Reduced motivation to study (20.71%), reduced concentration levels (15.27%), stress (14.93%) and mood swings (12.64%) are some of the most commonly noticed behavioural effects that the lockdown has inflicted (Economic Times).
While some of the adolescents sought help by talking to friends, families and professionals, the majority is still waiting for the pandemic to pass away and expecting things to fall back to the way they were.
Increased burden on adult population
Coming to the adult population, the problems they faced were extremely different from youngsters mainly because the root cause of their problems was different. The pandemic led to the imposition of lockdowns across many parts of the globe. Lockdowns meant a complete shutdown of activities. India is a country where the majority of the population works in the informal sector. Resultantly, most of the working adults either saw a fall in their salaries or were fired. In these times of crisis, when the responsibility of taking care of the family falls even more greatly on the earning members, the stress that this segment of the population went through is unimaginable. With children and senior citizens at home to take care of, the pandemic left the mental health of India’s adult population completely drained. Those who experienced fall in incomes or job loss reported higher levels of mental illnesses than the rest (53% vs 32%). A study in fact reported that 57% of participants were facing mental health issues out of concerns for family members and their wellbeing. (Economic Times)
The decline in salaries or loss of jobs weren’t the only problems in the pandemic. With social distancing regulations in place, most companies went into a hybrid or complete work from home set up. This segment of the population, which is not that well-versed with the digital world, found this even more troublesome and exhausting. While depression, anxiety and stress were common amongst adults too, most faced a new phenomenon called ‘burn-out,’ a term being given increasing importance in recent times. While working from home, the lines between personal and work time are completely blurred and many studies reported that people were seen spending more time working than they normally did, hence reaching a point of complete ‘burn-out.’ Psychologists during the pandemic kept recommending people to set work boundaries and take time off for self-care. However, India is one of those countries, where self-care doesn’t hold much significance and most of the population still remains unaware of what it even means.
Non-working adult women too faced many issues during this time. With all members of the family staying at home, domestic work which in India is still majorly considered the duty of women, increased significantly. While the pandemic affected the mental health of everyone almost similarly, these women constantly engaged in household tasks could hardly take time off for themselves.
Elderly mental health most affected
The pandemic, since it was mainly affecting older citizens left the elderly population completely terrorized. While the elderly population didn’t complain much about the restrictions to go outdoors, the terror amongst them was way higher than other age categories. A survey reported that about 80% of the senior citizen participants reported feelings of anxiety and more than 50% reported other mental health issues. The elderly population cannot keep themselves occupied in tasks all the time, leaving them with a feeling of isolation and loneliness during such fearsome times. Keeping in mind, the run-down condition of India’s healthcare structure, many of them have reported feelings of worry and anxiety while thinking about whether they will be able to get proper treatment or even find hospital beds at the time of need. (Times of India)
Seeing how badly the pandemic has affected the mental health of our country’s people, it is important that we take steps now. Even after 1.5 years of the virus causing havoc around the world, the lifestyles of people haven’t seen much of a difference. Mental health is not something that can or should be put on a hold. It is important that the government and policymakers look into the conditions of people’s minds as they plan the COVID-19 recovery.