When you know we are unable to do anything, because there is no solution available at the moment, it makes us fearful about the near future Credit: Representational image

The coronavirus outbreak, which has been declared as a pandemic, is a threat to humanity — physiologically, of course. We all are scared about how it’s going to be, whether we are going to get quarantined, whether we are going to live in isolation or if we get detected with the virus, then what? That’s one threat that we all are right now experiencing. But apart from that, I feel, as a mental health professional, that it is also wreaking havoc psychologically on us, among us.

The psychological impact started when people started sharing different posts, forwarded messages, mostly through social media, be it WhatsApp, Instagram or through the news platforms. Now, we don’t even know whether it’s real or fake until WHO came out with a verdict. Mostly, considering human tendency, we happen to get influenced by what is spoken, what we see. And social media is right now creating a lot of space in our psychological well-being.

Initially, we would be talking about how sensationalism in media has developed over time and created some kind of impact on the human psyche. But right now, when it comes to the outbreak of this pandemic, it’s also creating a lot of restlessness among us, not only the youth, but our grandparents, parents, siblings, friends, and mostly for people living far from home.

Sending forwarded messages, talking more about the same thing is creating a kind of uncertainty. Like psychologically, humans are usually very scared about what’s going to happen in the future. We are very futuristic. And we think where are we leading and what is going to happen to us. So the entire fear of uncertainty, whether we are going to survive, whether it’s going to impact us, our family members, etc, are leading to this thing called ‘learned helplessness’.

So, this learned helplessness is collectively felt when you know we are unable to do anything, because as of now, we know, medically there are no vaccines available, there is no cure for the virus. This makes us fearful about what is going to happen in the near future. As a result, everyone, out of their own insecurity is believing in any forwarded message or video.

And imagine about the people who have anxiety issues, this condition of being inclined towards being more anxious, the outbreak and such forwarded messages become an added concern for them.

We are undermining the fact that mentally we are panicking. Now, when we talk about panic, let’s also touch upon panic attacks, which is mostly an out of blue phenomena. You can experience it anywhere and everywhere and anyone can experience it. We feel that we lose control like we will die and then there are a lot of physiological symptoms which are followed by the psychological attack. So these kind mental health concerns are coming up, I say this not only because I’m a mental health professional, but I see it all around me, even in my own family.

Everyone is reacting to the pandemic, and coping with it in different ways. I might be coping with it in a more objective manner, someone else might be losing their mind over what’s going to happen because there are different types of coping mechanisms. Some people would oversleep, some might not sleep, some people might be very emotional about the possibility of losing someone and some might be very problem-focused, like making their own sanitizer, trying to educate people, reading up more about the pandemic etc.

But now, the concern is not how we are coping, but how we are being very responsible for what we are sharing and what we are doing. So if I am very anxious, I should also consider that the intensity of being anxious might be different when it comes to others, so when I share a message, it might be out of concern, but that might also create some kind of emotional upheaval in another person.

There are religious leaders talking about how because of the sins of the past and of the present, we are certain to face this outbreak and that we are guilty. So this kind of wrong message is not positive for the well-being of our mental health because it’s creating helplessness.

So, I started an initiative in order to provide some kind of emotional regulation. We wanted to create a positive space because we don’t know where we are heading. It is not about coming to a mental health professional when you are mentally ill, but we feel that you could curb a particular mental health concern at the grassroots level if you’re more observant. Why go to a therapist, when you have a mental health condition or when you need a diagnosis, rather go to a therapist talk about it when you are already undergoing some kind of mental health block.

When the coronavirus outbreak happened we thought that why not create a safe space, some kind of free service where at a particular time everyday people can book an appointment, and talk about what they’re undergoing at the moment.

So I have made an option that one can opt for, that is a free session from 11-12 pm through call, video or even via WhatsApp. Also, we created a post where we asked people to share a one minute video about their best self quarantined techniques, which has now culminated into a kind of awareness where people are sharing their own tips about what they are doing when they self quarantined, rather than talking about only the negatives of being under home arrest.

So it collectively shows that people want some kind of safety and they are concerned. We are talking about compassion, about sharing, but when we are isolated, when we are just watching TV or busy with our phones, we tend to share negative videos and messages. We don’t know where the messages or videos are from but since we are very insecure at the moment, we tend to share these things. But if we indulge in social media collectively for something better for humanity, trying to share views and ideas about self-quarantine, we are engaged in some kind of positive mental health well-being and this is what we need at the moment.

Social media plays a crucial role during such pandemic. People are misinterpreting and misusing it through various means. We have to be very responsible for what we are sharing with each other.

The concept of giving some kind of counselling to people is not psychotherapy, we are not trying to treat symptoms, we are not trying to treat people with mental illness. What we are doing is, we are trying to provide some kind of social support, moral support, emotional support if they want to reach out.

People can share a one minute video about their best self quarantined techniques to spread awareness about what can be done at home

That’s one and the second thing is a ‘one-minute video’ where we are trying to bring people together collectively to get people busy on social media, engage in activities. We want people to introspect about what they are doing during self-quarantine and also about how they feel for the other people. Maybe trying to empathize with the other person because here we are not trying to blindly tell people what to do, we are suggesting tested and tried things. Through personal experience, we are trying to educate people sitting at home. I believe, through such initiatives we can also facilitate the process of curbing the entire concept of helplessness, the anxiety about the uncertain.

(Nikita Hazarika is a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Ashwas: A Centre For Healing, Guwahati. The centre educates youth and works on ‘making mental health a priority for all’. She can be reached at: ashwasclinic@gmail.com)

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