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OP-ED: What Covid-19 is doing to our mental health

  • Published at 08:03 am August 1st, 2021
covid-19 mental health
Covid-19 makes it increasingly difficult to manage stress BIGSTOCK

Covid-19 endangers more than just our physical health -- it affects us mentally, socially, and financially

More than 190 million people have been infected with the coronavirus worldwide, 150 million people have recovered, and 4 million people have died. About 1.2 million people have been infected in Bangladesh to date. The number of deaths in Bangladesh approaches 21,000.

Covid-19 is a viral disease, but its extent exceeds the dangers of physical health. It is devastating us mentally, socially, and economically. There is no immediate possibility of resolving this crisis.

It is difficult to find the answer to what will happen in this reality. 36% of people have lost their jobs due to corona. Many, while having jobs, do not receive salaries and allowances. Most of them are middle class. So, what is the way to overcome the crisis?

During this corona crisis, the government has taken up development activities and implemented people-friendly measures for the overall protection and livelihood of people of different professions. All these measures are contributing, at least to some extent, to keeping the wheel of the stagnant economy running.

Due to the pandemic, the social picture of present-day Bangladesh has changed a lot. The normal wheel of the economy is not able to turn at its usual pace due. Stagnation is becoming stronger instead of mobility.

No certainty ahead

Countless people have become unemployed. Disoriented, many people have been forced to move to villages and are still doing so. Is there peace? Is there any guarantee of life? What are the employment opportunities? There are no good answers to these questions.

The livelihoods of professionals are now largely uncertain. Salary allowances in private offices are irregular. Even if they work, their salaries and allowances do not match. RMG workers are facing the same crisis. Many factories have already closed or are about to close. Migrant workers are constantly losing their jobs and becoming unemployed.

There is no light of hope anywhere. Job change competition is now a regular topic. What are the benefits of losing a job to a small business?

The number of people employed in different sectors used to be 68.2 million. Coronavirus has left 36.4 million people jobless. It is easy to see how dangerous the situation is.

As of now, the number of unemployed people is 2.6 million, as per Bangladesh Bank. This crisis is not only limited to Bangladesh, but is affecting the whole world. According to the latest report of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the crisis will be exacerbated. ILO says corona could cause 340 million people worldwide to lose their jobs. Our beloved Bangladesh is also on the list of troubled countries.

Education in despair

Both teachers and students are in danger as educational institutions have been closed for a long time. Most MPO-registered educational institutions are provided for by the government, but many teachers and employees do not get government benefits.

Private educational institutions have more problems. They cannot pay teachers and staff unless they take the fees from students. Again, there are questions about the rationale of collecting fees from the students as the educational institutions are closed. So, teachers and staff are in danger.

Mental stress takes its toll

Every person in Bangladesh is in the midst of stress during the corona period. Of these, about 34.9% of youth and young women are under various types of mental stress. Suffering from such mental instability, of these people, a reported 70.8% of the people are physically harming themselves. There is also a tendency to commit suicide as a result of various mental stresses.

The above numbers are according to a survey conducted by the Aanchal Foundation, a service provider working on the mental health of the youth. The high number of suicides during the corona period has caused concern. Many are working to identify the causes of various mental health problems and to find solutions.

From March 2020 to February 2021, there were a total of 14,438 suicides in the country. According to 322 suicide case studies, 49% of those who committed suicide were between the ages of 20 and 35. And 57% of them were women.

According to the data available, most young people suffer from depression -- being upset most of the time, losing interest in jobs of choice, getting abnormally more or less sleep, losing focus on work, thinking negative thoughts about themselves, and suffering from indecision.

Research has shown that when these problems become severe, the tendency to commit suicide increases. The main reason is not being able to talk openly with anyone about mental instability. 

Most spend unusually long amounts of time on social media, which is making them emotionally upset. Many people spend more than 8 hours a day on social media. They also mentioned that their mental health interferes with their daily activities. Of these, 91.4% have never consulted a psychiatrist.

Problems related to stress that young people continue to face during corona are: Loss of focus on studies and work, irritable moods, feeling lonely, marriage pressure from family despite unwillingness, financial problems, excessive thinking, mobile addiction, behavioural problems, lack of job opportunities, session jams, uncertain future, and deaths of family members.

Multiple studies show that one in five people infected with corona develops depression, anxiety, psychosis, and so on. Experts say that the rate of stress, anxiety, depression, and panic among people who are not affected by corona and health workers is many times higher than usual. Even if you recover from corona, there is still a risk of mental health problems.

Mental distress is exacerbated by fears of corona infection, uncertainty about access to medical care, economic turmoil, unemployment, fears of death, and even misconceptions about corona. And there is stress among health workers engaged at all levels in corona treatment, which is harming their mental health as well.

Even in the pandemic, domestic violence and gender-based violence have increased worldwide. Infected deaths, panic attacks if infected, fear of family members’ infection, and loneliness while in isolation increase stress, as does frightening news in the media and frequent insomnia.

However, it is important to remember that in this critical moment, it is normal to be panicked, stressed out, or frustrated. The whole world is facing an unusual situation. But if one is panicked and their immunity is reduced, the risk of infection will increase. 

Panic and stress in the person affected by Covid-19 will further complicate their situations. So, everyone needs to improve their skills in dealing with stress.

The way out of this situation can be by spending quality time with family, living an orderly life, and not stopping routine things like sleep, eating at the right time, light exercise at home, etc.

At this time, everyone should be involved in various social activities. In this case, it is very important for the organizations working for the upliftment of society to come forward. Everyone should try to keep busy.

At present, there are many types of income sources online from home; these platforms can be activated by utilizing the talents of all working people, including the youth. We have to work together to deal with this situation together. Besides, various initiatives of the government have to be implemented.

Hiren Pandit is a Research Fellow, BNNRC.

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