Lockdown takes a toll on persons with pre-existing mental illnesses

 thehindu.com  08/02/2020 07:35:44 

Experts are of the view that the prolonged COVID-19 lockdown has led to a deep sense of distress among the public. This is particularly so for those with pre-existing mental illnesses.

Reduced access to medication and drastic changes to routine could lead to relapses for those who have mental illnesses, say experts. Those with mental illnesses including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder who spoke to The Hindu say that the five months since lockdown began have been difficult.

A 32 year-old woman diagnosed with schizophrenia says that the lockdown has placed her in a setting where she has no choice but to interact with extended family who are unaware of her mental illness. It is difficult because everyone tends to be insensitive. They write my mental illness off as mood swings. It also becomes difficult for me to virtually connect to periodic sessions with my psychiatrist online, she says.

The daughter of a 82 year-old man with dementia says that it was particularly difficult in procuring medication for him during the initial phases of the lockdown, leading to worsening of his mental health. Although it is easier now, we have to ensure that the medicines are ordered in bulk and in advance to avoid any major issues, she says.

A detailed document by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore, titled Mental Health in the times of COVID-19 Pandemic- Guidance for General Medical and Specialised Mental Health Care Settings focuses on various aspects of mental health including those who have already been diagnosed with mental illnesses.

The document states that any pre-existing psychiatric conditions like psychosis, mood disorders, anxiety spectrum disorders, sleep disorders and many others, can exacerbate during the quarantine. The document adds that one must acknowledge the feeling of boredom, loneliness, feeling sad, stressed, confused, loss of personal freedom and guilt.

Persons with pre-existing mental illnesses are particularly disadvantaged during the lockdowns. For persons with mental illness or epilepsy, reduced access to medication can lead to relapse of symptoms, as can the compounded stress. For persons with substance use disorders, sudden withdrawal leading to seizures, delirium, agitation, and even suicide have been described, the document states.

Nandini Murali, an activist and director of SPEAK, an organisation that aims to create safe spaces for those impacted by suicide loss says that she has come across a few persons who have confided in her about suicidal ideation but are yet to reach out to professionals that she has put them in touch with. The full impact of the pandemic is yet to set in. We must ensure that the stigma regarding reaching out for support is avoided, she says.

G.Gurubharathy who works with M.S.Chellamuthu Trust and Research Foundation, says that they are still tending to mental health emergencies through their helpline and treating cases as well. Much of their consultation has shifted online for the protection of patients as well as their employees but he says that there is a steady stream of patients. We even deliver our drugs online, he says.

He says that it is important to keep in mind the transitional natures of these disaster-like situations to tide through difficult times. Although we have been advised to keep physical distance, we must ensure we use our social connections to ensure that we work our way through the pandemic, he says.

Dear reader,

We have been keeping you up-to-date with information on the developments in India and the world that have a bearing on our health and wellbeing, our lives and livelihoods, during these difficult times. To enable wide dissemination of news that is in public interest, we have increased the number of articles that can be read free, and extended free trial periods. However, we have a request for those who can afford to subscribe: please do. As we fight disinformation and misinformation, and keep apace with the happenings, we need to commit greater resources to news gathering operations. We promise to deliver quality journalism that stays away from vested interest and political propaganda.

Support Quality Journalism

Dear subscriber,

Thank you!

Your support for our journalism is invaluable. Its a support for truth and fairness in journalism. It has helped us keep apace with events and happenings.

The Hindu has always stood for journalism that is in the public interest. At this difficult time, it becomes even more important that we have access to information that has a bearing on our health and well-being, our lives, and livelihoods. As a subscriber, you are not only a beneficiary of our work but also its enabler.

We also reiterate here the promise that our team of reporters, copy editors, fact-checkers, designers, and photographers will deliver quality journalism that stays away from vested interest and political propaganda.

Suresh Nambath

« Go back