Saturday, June 22, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

In Pandemic, and In Health

I read somewhere that the term social distancing itself is negative, that it ought to be physical distancing instead. I concur. We can adjust the manner (physical proximity) in which we conduct our relationships, we need not abandon them altogether. Of course, in these trying times,it is easier said than done.

Update : 13 Oct 2023, 08:22 PM

Truth be told, theprolonged isolation has worsened the condition of both men and women with existing psychological concerns. It has further created new complications for those people who were mentally healthy, as active participation in work and family life enhances attachment, fosters identity, and gives a sense of value and belonging. Mental health issues are more prevalent now than in the pre Covid-19 old normal; there is also more self - reporting with a rise in the demand for counselling services. 

On the surface this suggests a greater awareness regarding the importance of mental well -being, a diminishing of the stigmas around psychological disturbances, and a willingness to seek help.  One of the silver linings of the coronavirus cloud perhaps? 

As we are approaching the end of 2020, and the vaccine rollout has begun, I wonder what will happen if, and when,the inoculation programs are successful, and economies begin to move again. The year saw many of us embrace mental health issues not as an aberration from normalcy, but as part and parcel of the new normal itself. But is this attitude a temporary departure from our cultural views, or a permanent paradigm shift (whatever ‘permanent’ means that is)?

The coronavirus statistics illustrate that men are more susceptible to fatalities than women overall, and a grim prediction for the new normal is that health inequalities will worsen. Add these factors, and a myriad of other considerations, to the trauma experienced during the pandemic which will linger in our minds and bodies for months and years to come. 

All very well for us to discuss our emotional baggage on public platforms now, but in the not- too - distant futurewe may be called out for being self-proclaimed pagols,and barred from opportunity and empowerment. Never say never, as these are unnatural times and clouds do pass. 

Thanks to the vaccines, we are already discussing a Covid 19 “recovery”, and in emotional terms that means healing. Whether the inoculation programs come close to their efficacy shown in the controlled trials or not, we should anticipate a period of rapid change, innovation, and evolution. In order that we may process and adjust to what we have experienced, and to be better prepared for what we will experience, mental health support systems need to be in place as emotional well - being is coupled with both productivity and creativity. 

Looking at the matter historically, it was the 1918 pandemic that served as the precursor to psychiatry as a science and a clinical speciality. Therefore, theoretically, this is an opportune moment to demolish the shame and stigma surrounding mental health and its associated structures. 

As a psychosocial apprentice, I am hoping history will repeat itself, and we will use this opportunity, when people have become receptive to discussing disturbances and disorders and to seeking professional help to remedy them. However, as with the vaccines, I realise the reality may be something else. 

Another truth be told, mental health issues will not disappear even if the memories of the pandemic do fade. If we as a society do not look into ourselves and find interventions as  soon as possible and within our sociocultural framework, relationships as we know them may be altered forever, and psychiatric distancing might be the next phase we find ourselves in. 

Chintamoni grew up in Dhaka, where she will always belong, but never quite fit in. She is an enthusiastic traveller, a compulsive procrastinator, and a contumelious raconteur.


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