My thoughts / experiences – Dr K.V. Kishore Kumar, Psychiatrist and Director, The Banyan, Chennai
Corona pandemic – an invisible enemy that all humans are afraid of, has caused massive misery and suffering to families, societies, communities, industries and countries.
My experience as a psychiatrist managing a psychiatric facility as well as responding to individuals who were distressed due to the consequences of lock down.
Corona pandemic is a disaster of a very large magnitude.
It is a common experience for all of us, is to jump into action in any crisis situation.
Corona has been different because all those who wanted to jump into action to provide relief to the community are hesitant or cautious at best. They are unwilling to plunge into action and work with agencies to mitigate distress because the enemy is invisible. The number of individuals who are in action in the field is clearly too small because of the fear.
Most of the good samaritans who are helping the distressed is by using IT based solutions – such as posting educational material, crowd sourcing, raising resources such as relief or volunteering in some form. Organising meals, generating masks, producing hand sanitisers, conducting on line classes for children or even conducting online training programs to prepare individuals to work as lay Counsellors. The technology based solutions such as awareness videos, working to bring in expertise to deal with public health issues was very prominent.
Of course, the ground reality warranted such an engagement. The most impressive part was that of behaviour change communication through the print, electronic and radio brondcasts. The amount of behaviour change communication (BCC) seen during this pandemic was never seen before at least based on my own experience.
Despite the information overload, compliance with rules was not as much as it should have been.
Public Response to the Pandemic
Families practising self quarantine during the lock down period have had mixed experiences.
Initially, the ability to stick to the rules and compliance was very high but gradually decreased – practice fatigue. Some of people reported very high degree of creativity as the lockdown progressed. Making home made eatables, preparing innovative pickles, reading, writing, telephonic contact with relatives and friends also increased reportedly. Gradually , some of these enthusiastic activities decreased over a period of time.
After 10 days into the lockdown period, people started reporting boredom, sadness and a sudden sense of uncertainty. The sense of loneliness, uncertainty, disillusionment increased sharply after the announcement of second lockdown.
People Interested in economy, started getting too pessimistic and restless. They often questioned themselves, Will our economy get back to normalcy, most of the middle class started consoling themselves looking at the plight to the powerful nations like the US, UK, France , Germany etc. some restless individuals started thinking, why the government is not pumping money so as to increase community spending. One most tragic part of this phase was rising suicides in young and the middle aged substance users based on the media reports.
My personal experience as a psychiatrist was slightly different.
A large number of people accessed care and were ready to undergo home based detoxification based on the telephonic advice and prescription through the email and Whatsapp. Surprisingly, this mode worked very efficiently, follow up of such individuals was very gratifying indeed. Most of them were getting better, coped with withdrawal symptoms better and most families were surprised with this change.
One group who found it very difficult to cope with lockdown were persons who lived alone, they were at loss to understand how to keep themselves engaged in daily activities. It is this group which benefitted from telephonic contact with counsellors, friends and other contacts.
Many persons who lived alone or in very small families engaged themselves in listening to pravachans, shlokas and generally praying to god.
Patients who contacted me regularly during the lockdown period said that praying helped them greatly. Some observed that god was testing them by exposing them to new difficulties, while others attributed to double eclipse in the early part of the year.
The most affected individuals were the mentally ill persons who had small jobs in their neighbourhood. They could not earn and that was a major concern to families. A section of these individuals were dependent on nicotine and they looked forward to nicotine refills every day which was not possible due to lockdown.
One person was picked up by the police since he wandered away looking for tobacco.
Since many patients with fever were not seen in the hospitals, I had to manage many cases with fever myself. This was complicated by errors in measurement tools for temperature. I had to manage a patient with klebseilla pneumoniae since hospitals were unwilling to take care of such patients.
I worked all through the lockdown period managing teams, patients and building capacities to care. It has been uneventful till date.
In conclusion, corona pandemic has brought about a lot of changes in people’s lives, they practiced austerity measures since they were cautious about future. The fear that any viral infection could be due to corona was very bothersome.
All in all, a challenging situation in all aspects of life- economically, socially, physically, psychologically and spiritually.