For people dealing with pre-existing mental issues, the Covid-19 pandemic is causing a world of pain. Having been cooped up in their homes, they have far too much time on their hands.
Ravi (name changed), a city-based software engineer who attends therapy sessions, has struggled with stress and anxiety for many years. He hasn’t left home in two weeks, except to buy groceries.
“I have been in therapy for seven months. I made a lot of progress in terms of dealing with my stress and anxiety. But I feel I am regressing now. My thoughts are troubling me just as much they used to in the past,” he said. Ravi said going to the office, socialising with friends, playing a sport had done wonders for him. None of that is possible now.
Parvathi (name changed), a journalist who has had issues with anxiety, said she was happy about going to the office regularly. “The fear of catching the virus is present in my mind but I am dealing with it in my own weird way. I have told myself, I will catch the virus and I just have to survive it.”
Due to the statewide lockdown, almost all counsellors have cancelled physical sessions. Many of them are conducting sessions via videoconference, however not everyone is opting for them. Parvathi, for instance, said she wasn’t sure how effective a video-session would be.
Dr Pragya Rashmi, a consultant psychologist, noted that most of her clients hadn’t taken well to the situation. “These are the people who have locked themselves us completely in their homes. We are seeing high suicide ideation among them. Those who are pathological have gone from being mildly ill to being severely ill,” she said.
Dr Rashmi said while her office is open to patients, most have chosen to stay at home. Her team has identified “critical patients” who are at risk. “We are reaching out to them regularly to see how they are doing,” she said.
Psychologists noted that fear of the unknown and unfamiliar is a big part. Karthik Madugula, a counselling psychologist, said, “No one alive has ever faced a pandemic like this. People don’t really know how to deal with this.” He said that people who are unable to work during the shutdown are vulnerable.
“For now, from what I have observed in my clients, most people are worried about their survival and are still thinking about actual, physical problems. But once they get used to living in a lockdown, their existing issues could come back bigger than before. They will start ruminating over unhealthy things,” he said.
For now, he added, he is asking his clients to focus on distracting themselves with the news or other media. “Personal development can wait. Their sustenance is what is important right now. They need to be taught what they should do when they are free and more importantly, what they shouldn’t,” he said.
M. Lakshman Sharma, a counselling psychologist, too noted that many of clients were exhibiting problems. “Only some of my clients are truly able to healthily spend their free time with their families. The rest are a worried lot.”