- The newly rising Covid-19 cases and what it means for us on an emotional level
By Naveed Rozais
Here we are, as Sri Lankans, watching a second outbreak of Covid-19 taking place, with the first new case of community-bound Covid-19 being reported last Sunday (4), and a total of over 1,000 cases, and counting, being reported within the following 72-hour period (as of 7 October). Our sense of security, some say complacency, has been shattered. Covid-19 is here again, within our community, and only time will tell how severe this outbreak will be.
The economic implications of a second Covid-19 outbreak and a second lockdown are clear. It would not be good. The first lockdown saw Sri Lanka’s three biggest industries, the tourism industry, the migrant worker industry, and the apparel industry take severe hits, along with almost every other industry beginning to suffer. The tourism industry has seen things get bleaker with foreign travel to our shores being completely halted, with no hope of resuming until, at absolute earliest, early-2021, if not later.
But what does this mean emotionally for us as a people?
The first lockdown and our mental state
The first lockdown was a mixed bag. For some, it was time to slow down and be mindful. For others, it was a time of great scarcity and strain, with loss of income, restricted movement, and mounting uncertainty.
Self-care became important during the first lockdown; dialogues around wellness and mental health increased, as did awareness on the importance of mental health. But what was our mental health like during the first lockdown?
We reached out to National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Senior Consultant Psychiatrist Dr. Pushpa Ranasinghe, for her insight on what general mental health was like during the last lockdown.
Dr. Ranasinghe shared that the NIMH’s mental health helpline, 1926, received approximately 15,000 calls during the lockdown, receiving more than 150 calls each day, with a drop rate of 200 calls. Dr. Ranasinghe also shared that there was an increased incidence of suicide during the lockdown.
“In the beginning, the majority of calls we received were about anxiety, from general anxiety about the situation to anxiety from those with pre-existing mental health conditions treating their illness during the lockdown,” Dr. Ranasinghe shared, adding that as the lockdown went on, the nature of issues reported changed. “It became about economic issues, domestic violence, alcohol problems, and then child-related issues like education. We had both men and women calling us in equal amounts for support.”
Dr. Ranasinghe shared that many people with pre-existing mental health conditions were unable to access mental health services and treatment, including medication, because of the lockdown. The NIMH stepped in, working with local mental health teams and post offices to be able to deliver medication to those in need.
From an NIMH standpoint, Dr. Ranasinghe shared that NIMH has prepared for a potential second lockdown, reviving procedures and systems they used in the first lockdown, giving accommodation to some staff so that they don’t need to travel and potentially expose themselves, as well as following all health guidelines.
What can we expect to feel in a (potential) second lockdown?
Speaking on a potential second lockdown, Dr. Ranasinghe commented that a second lockdown, while easier to manage on a practical and logistical level, would still definitely be a very difficult time. “People who are in tourism are hit the most, and so are the children in school and doing exams; not to mention those working abroad, stuck there with their relatives in Sri Lanka. Anxiety will definitely go up,” Dr. Ranasinghe said, adding: “With the previous lockdown, we had hope that we were coming out (of it). This time, with the fear of community spread, the anxiety will likely be much more. There are also people who are fed up, and those who are in very difficult situations feel it would just be better to catch it and die if that’s the case.”
Counselling psychologist and psychotherapist Nivendra Uduman shared his views on what to expect emotionally from a second lockdown, explaining that the most likely emotion that Sri Lankans will experience will be anxiety. For adults, financial situations and job security will be a source of anxiety, while young people will struggle because of shifts in routine. Uduman also commented that some teenagers and young people will be vulnerable to developing depression in a second lockdown, especially because this lockdown would be coming at a time when schools have just reopened, and routines are just going back to normal.
On coming to terms with a second lockdown, Uduman stressed that it was important for people to be mindful of what is happening. “People need to really understand what they can and can’t control in a situation like this.”
Furthermore, he noted: “Things that can be controlled include looking after yourself and your loved ones, as well as practising self-care and keeping active by exercise or pursuing a hobby. If there is a second lockdown, then government regulations will be released to help understand what you can and can’t control.”
Pressing pause on life, as many did during the first lockdown, seems very difficult, and Uduman shared that this will depend very much on the person. “Some people are very content with shutting down and stepping back,” Uduman said, adding: “But other people need to be on the move and be active. We also need to remember that not every home is safe and comfortable, so that challenge is also there. The risks and issues of intimate partner violence and being unsafe will also come up again if there is a prolonged curfew.”
The very real issue of stigma
With the nature of Covid-19 and its rate of infection, it is easy to blame or ostracise those who contract it. But, it is very important to remember that crises are survived by working together and not by turning on each other. Stigmatising Covid-19 and those who get it can contribute to making the virus more likely to spread, resulting in a bigger and potentially uncontrollable outbreak. Stigma can lead those with potential symptoms to do things like hide their symptoms and not seek out healthcare immediately.
Particularly in the case of a second lockdown, where we will all be more stressed, it is more important than ever to be kind. Actively work against perpetuating negative stereotypes and assumptions. Be extra careful of what information you share and with whom. Don’t strengthen false associations between the disease and other factors, don’t create widespread fear, and don’t dehumanise those who have the disease.
A second outbreak, though discouraging, does not mean that we have failed, and those of us who have got Covid-19, have not done so wilfully. Covid-19 is at the end of the day, a disease. Now, more than any other time, is to band together and be mindful of precautions and guidelines, and for each of us to do our part, individually and collectively, to fight this outbreak.
Our resilience is real
Sri Lanka’s biggest strength is its people, and it is our people, working together and being kind that will get us through this difficult time.
Sri Lanka is resilient beyond belief. We have suffered through so many times of trauma and come out stronger. From our decades-long civil war to the tsunami to the Easter attacks, we have always defeated what has been thrown at us.
Sri Lanka has always been a collective society. We’ve always thought about ourselves as a whole, and this is what will get us through; not just Covid-19, but any other crisis that comes our way. We’ve seen our country’s spirit of togetherness rise to the occasion time and time again.
While this second outbreak is a setback, it is just that; a setback. We will persevere and we will recover. And we will do it as we have always done. Together.