‘Social distancing’ and self-imposed ‘quarantine’ have become the new normal to all of us through out the world from children to aged person these days.
Due to widespread coronavirus throughout the world, the governments of most of the countries are appealing to its citizen to maintain social distance or home quarantine for which they declared lockdown to prevent the spread of deadly virus.
In January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO), declared the outbreak of new coronavirus or COVID-19 to be a public health emergency of international concern.
In March 2020, WHO made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.
On the basis of WHO’s declaration, Government of India also declared nationwide lockdown for 21 days in the first phase.
It was again extended for another 14 days upto May 3.
But as the rate of infected people started increasing in some states, the period of lockdown has been extended till May 17.
Again it has been extended to another 14 days.
As a result, a tremendous uncertainty prevailed among the people as all the transport services, road, air and rail were suspended, all educational institutions were closed down, business, industrial establishment official works became paralyzed, people who were away from home for any purposes became stagnant.
A small virus locked down every one in their rooms.
The situation is such that we are battling with an enemy which is not even visible.
It is really very difficult to tackle with this moment and also very difficult to comprehend actually through which we are going through.
All the time we are actually struggling with us which is affecting us in all spheres of life unexpectedly which in turn affecting our mind.
This coronavirus has put such a fear in the psyche of people like paranoia.
War like situation is prevailing throughout the world which is creating phobia, anxiety, fear, uncertainties, hopelessness, loneliness, stress and many other psychological problems.
Tylor rightly said this is the first time since we have been alive that we are actively practicing social isolation as a method to improve health.
But the question is that how easy it is for 2.6 billion people throughout the globe to bear with this situation?
Human beings are social creatures and from birth we are interacting with different social beings.
It is very difficult in the part of any human being to put oneself away from other social beings.
But when someone forcefully put some social restrictions it really matters.
Mental health experts and psychologists are warning that, loosing these important connections can come with a high psychological cost.
Hence physical distancing and self-isolation measures that have been applied to limit the spread of coronavirus have resulted in increasing number of mental health problems among the masses.
In this present situation, the daily routine of everyone is thrown out of gear as they are forced into isolation to save oneself from this highly contagious and deadly virus but there is a real danger that mental health issues set in.
The physical illness can be cured but the mental or psychological illness has long time effect.
The psychologists are viewing that this will result in secondary epidemic of burn outs and stress related absenteeism in the latter half of 2020.
A review published recently in Lancet, on the basis of 24 studies documenting the psychological impact of quarantine or social distancing summarized that, there may be a range of psychological conditions from post-traumatic stress symptoms to confusion, anger, depression etc as happened during previous epidemic such as SARS.
The Goggle Trends data also suggested that, the stress level in India has increased due to social distancing.
A recent survey by the Indian Psychiatric Society suggests a 20 per cent rise in cases related to mental illness because of uncertainties, fear, complexities relates to issues like finance, work, health and stress in relationship.
Most of the countries of the world are trying to do some research work or to have some programme to protect people from these types of psychological distress.
Research at the University of Cambridge, already planned for studies into the mental health effects of coronavirus which they say is ‘clearly having a major social and psychological impact on the whole population’.
WHO has suggested many guidelines for the general population, healthcare workers, team leaders and managers and also suggested some measures for caring children and old people.
Some of the important measures suggested by WHO are to help children find positive ways to express feelings such as fear and sadness, to have telephonic conversation to those who are separated, adults should pay attention to their own need and feeling and to engage in healthy activities that one can enjoy and feel relaxed .
Public Health England, have made a new campaign to encourage people to take care of their mind as well as their body.
India is also making many efforts to protect the mental health of people in this lock down and social distancing period.
The Neerja Birla-led Mpower partnered with the government of Maharashtra and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) launched a 24×7 helpline to address mental health concerns during COVID-19 pandemic.
National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) is also offering mental health counselling to the citizens related to the pandemic to many family members across 21 states and union territories in collaboration with the central, state and local administrators.
This lockdown and maintaining social distancing are really a difficult time for almost everyone as we are associating it with risk and complexities.
Kate Shwety, the executive director for the campaign to end loneliness, rightly said, “What we are expressing now is what thousands of older people experience all the time”.
She said “It is a valuable lesson, that we should all make an effort to help others when they don’t need to be in that situation and we can use this time to try and build link to our community-something which often get neglected in big cities.”
COVID -19 lockdown is the world’s biggest psychological experiment.
But it is important for us to cope with it, to be kind with ourselves to think rationally that this is a temporary stage and is just beginning of the new society, new hopes, new feelings new mind set and vision.
This COVID -19 pandemic has equated all of us as this virus don’t discriminate people in terms of caste, creed, religion and status.
It also helps us to rethink about the value of co-operation, love, affection, understanding each other, rekindling the values of acceptance, tolerance accommodating others viewpoints as well as developing helping attitudes.
This lockdown is also helping people to look inward, feeling oneness, belongingness and unitedness and also to gauge their potentialities.
On the other hand, technology also playing great role to unite us, to having new experiences like working from home, online classes and courses, online socialization etc.
Social distancing due to lockdown is also help us to rethink that ‘Nature’ is teaching us a lesson that human being should not have the delusion that they can control everything with the help of technology, otherwise a small virus which are not even visible could not be able to lockdown everyone of the world in their home!
The writer is the Professor and the former HOD in Education, GU and can be reached at [email protected]