By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya
It feels like we have not been able to take a breather since 2020 and the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Whenever there was a drop in cases and it seemed like we could have a semblance of our lives back, another wave would break, and we would return to lockdowns and travel restrictions. And now, we are looking at an economic crisis and peaceful protests turning violent.
The impact this has had on our mental health cannot be taken lightly. In March, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said there was a 25% increase in the global prevalence of anxiety and depression during the first year of the pandemic.
“Concerns about potential increases in mental health conditions had already prompted 90% of countries surveyed to include mental health and psychosocial support in their Covid-19 response plans, but major gaps and concerns remain,” the statement issued by WHO read.
According to WHO, social isolation is among the major causes for the increase in stress. Constraints on the ability to work, seeking support for loved ones, and engaging in one’s community are among the factors linked to this.
Stressors linked to depression and anxiety include loneliness, fear of infection, suffering and death for oneself and for loved ones, grief after bereavement, and financial worries.
A scientific brief released by WHO also states that young people and women were among the worst hit and that people with pre-existing physical health conditions like asthma, cancer, and heart disease were more likely to develop symptoms of mental disorders.
However, WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that “the information we have now about the impact of Covid-19 on the world’s mental health is just the tip of the iceberg”. He added that this was a wake-up call to all countries to pay more attention to mental health.
In Sri Lanka, as mentioned, we have had to not only deal with the impact of the pandemic, but also an economic crisis that has resulted in shortages and unavailability of essential goods, rising prices, and significant changes to our lifestyles.
While acknowledging the privileges and luxuries some of us can still afford in life, it cannot be ignored that we are all affected by the current situation in the country in one way or another. Uncertainty regarding the country’s, and thus our own, future, coupled with the inability to afford the things we could at the beginning of the year, alongside building anger and frustration, has left most of us with very little energy.
While it is always recommended that one seeks professional help for mental health, we can also agree that affordability and accessibility makes this difficult. Naturally, we then look at sources of comfort that will get us through the day, whether it is a feel-good TV show, or our pets.
For many, pets have been a constant source of comfort. The isolation one feels when working from home is not felt as intensely when one has a cat purring next to their laptop or a dog napping on their bed.
Several studies have been done on the bond between humans and their pets, especially during the past two years. Harold Herzog, a psychologist attached to the Western Carolina University USA, studies aspects of human-animal interactions and has said higher survival rates, fewer heart attacks, less loneliness, better blood pressure, better psychological wellbeing, lower rates of depression, and stress levels, fewer doctor visits, increased self-esteem, better sleep, and more physical activity are among the health benefits pet owners have shown to experience.
Many would also agree that pets lend us a sense of company we often cannot find in humans; one that expects little and is void of the give-and-take nature of human relationships.
Sharing her thoughts on what has been a source of comfort during these times, Yathursha Ulakentheran said: “Sometimes sarcasm. Often it is the puppies that live with us. And A. Sivanandan’s When Memory Dies – it helps me get perspectives on what’s happened and how things are repeating.”
Books are of course known for their educational value and the information we can obtain from them makes us more aware of the world we live in and the people we associate with. However, books can also act as a great distraction from everything happening around us, whether we are discovering characters in a new book, or returning to the familiarity of one we have already read.
Along with books, movies, and music are also things we turn to when in need of comfort. According to Ranul Perera, anime and reading web fiction have helped during these times.
For Sajida Fazy, a constant source of comfort has been a good movie and music, as well as family. Many others also agree that family has been a great source of comfort, with another Twitter user saying his four nieces, Rachel, Elsa, Ruth, and Sofia have brought him great comfort during these times.
“Would have probably lost my sanity, not just with the mob frenzy on Monday (9), but with the continuing power cuts and economic crisis. But it is powerful healing when they hold my hand and smile cheekily,” he said.
Family and friends are among those we rely on to keep us going during difficult times and many of us have felt distanced from them during the past two years, during the pandemic as well as the economic crisis. The ease with which one could have organised and attended gatherings with family and friends has now turned to difficulty, first due to a fast spreading disease and now due to fuel shortages and uncertainty in the country.
Sports and activities like basketball, fitness, and baking are also among the things people have turned to. In addition to this, the sense of unity that has emerged from the people’s protests have also lent a sense of comfort to many.