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Dhaka Tribune

Living with the trauma

How the pandemic is damaging our mental health

Update : 16 May 2020, 01:11 AM

It really doesn’t take an expert or a UN agency to tell us that there’s a storm of stress and trauma of cataclysmic proportions ravaging our minds across the world. If any us says that he or she is not scared, he or she may be lying.

The pandemic has taken us by unprecedented surprise. No one, apart from in the war-ravaged countries, has experienced such fear of being attacked by a dangerous virus and the fear of dying. Each and every one of us is scared to realize that there’s an unseen enemy around us, strong enough to kill us.

That is perhaps the reason why most of the people across the world are depressed today. A fear has overshadowed all our normal chores. The fear is there all the time in the back of our minds. The lockdown situation has worsened our mental state and has impacted the children in every country.

Our son is an example of that. When the lockdown had started in Bangladesh at the end March, our son couldn’t accept the fact that his papa and mama weren’t going to their workplaces and are inside the house all the time. He’s not used to seeing his parents at home day after day. Then, after a week, he was OK but began to worry for his parents, thinking they might be impacted more dangerously than him by the virus.

His exams got rescheduled due to the spread of the pandemic. And that was an upsetting matter for him. He is not alone. Millions of young people got their exams delayed with their schools and colleges closed. A depressing time for them.

This is the most challenging time for the physicians and health workers across the world. They are in fact the front-line fighters during this crisis. It is they who directly deal with the Covid-19 patients round the clock. It is they who are in the riskiest situation of being infected by the killer virus. The medical profession is in general very hazardous. And during this pandemic, it has become a den of death. I believe most of the physicians who are now helping the patients would be seriously impacted in the long run.

It’s very worrying to see that a large number of on-duty police personnel have become infected. Imagine what kind of challenging situation their family members are in. Society is not behaving very well with the persons who have been infected by this virus. The infected persons are being treated like outcasts.

An unimaginable uncertainty about the future has crept in. Millions of people have become jobless and many more would join the queue. Our expatriate workers are returning. About two million expatriate workers are likely to lose their jobs. Locally, thousands in the private sector will lose their jobs. The current situation already tells a story of an uncertain and traumatic future.

It’s not only the common people who have been mentally affected by this situation. If you look at the heads of state across the world, you would see massive changes in their behaviour. They sound agitated and restless. Some of them are doing and saying funny things, which they wouldn’t have done normally.

I received several phone calls from my colleagues, confessing their states of mind. They said they are home but cannot stop worrying; they said they felt that they were agitated and scared all the time and they cannot do their work properly. 

The mental trauma is also impacting their relationships. When you talk to them for some time, they feel better. When they diverted their attention to something else, they felt better. However, diverting our attention during this panicky pandemic is next to impossible.

For me, the arrival of the virus was like a motion picture. I have been watching its flight to our country since February. I could see an enormous shawl of coronavirus slowly flying towards Bangladesh and steadily overshadowing the entire sky of the country. I felt my senses being impacted by the possibility of the rampage the virus would run in this country. In the back of my mind, I really panicked. I was trying to alert everybody around me with the facts of what the virus can do to humans.

My fear was compounded with some extremely unwise decisions by our authorities and the foolish actions by our people at large.

I noticed that I had an inclination to monitor the body counts -- how many people were dying every day. After a while, I realized that the body count was impacting my mental health. I decided not to pay attention to that piece of info any more. I tried to leave everything to God and I felt better.

I tried to concentrate on reading books. Read a few. However, really getting into the content of the books was a difficult task. I would pick up the phone lying by me every 10 minutes and saw what other were saying about the virus on Whatsapp, Facebook, and Viber.

I tried to write a few short stories. Apart from a few paragraphs, it was quite a Herculean job. I noticed there was something blocking my ability to imagine. Watching movies, apart from the virus fictions, helped to an extent, but the fear didn’t go away.

We don’t know what’s going to happen to us, to our country in the future. Our authorities and intelligentsia are planning for the economic recovery of the damage this virus is to leave behind. But no one is actually thinking about the trauma that the people are experiencing right now. We don’t find leaders who are motivating the common people; no one is encouraging the people to fight the pandemic; no one is disseminating the right message to fight it.

I feel the people are becoming burnt out in their own respective hells of fear and they need help. It’s time to help them. Remember -- a mentally traumatized lot is far worse than an unskilled lot. 

Ekram Kabir is a story-teller and a communications professional. His other works can be found on

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