Effect of the pandemic on people’s lives has been profound and devastating and includes not only the physical health of people but mental health as well. WHO declared COVID-19 as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) on 30 January 2020 and since then many surveys across the globe have recorded an unprecedented rise in mental disorders amongst people.
A June 2020 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of adults found that 40.9% of respondents reported “at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition,” including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and substance abuse, with rates that were 3 to 4 times the rates 1 year earlier.
Simple stress is cascading to trauma? It’s the feeling of insecurity and longing for relief.
Yes, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after Covid-19 has become quite common. It affects everyone in one way or the other at some point of time in life.
In order to identify and combat it, renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Supriya Agrawal, MD, MRC Psych (U.K.) and seasoned yoga mentor and founder of ACT YOGA Dr. N Ganesh Rao, have contributed to guide us towards a calm and balanced life especially in stressful times like Covid with this Chat on the Mat.
hmy: With your professional expertise how do you perceive Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Dr. Supriya: As per the global classificatory body, namely ICD- International Classification of Diseases, post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental disorder that is defined by the cluster of symptoms experienced by an individual who has witnessed or experienced significant life event or trauma in the form of assault, loss, accident, natural disaster, pandemic i.e. situations that shake the sense of security or stability in life in a most sudden and shocking way. These symptoms include flashbacks or nightmares of the traumatic memory, hyper-vigilance or feeling edgy all the time, numbing of emotions, and avoidance of cues or situations that trigger those traumatic memories. This, of course, can affect an individual’s sleep, appetite, mood, and ability to function normally to a varying degree.
Dr. Ganesh Rao: Any trauma, howsoever serious it may be, is necessarily bearable/manageable when it happens. “You have no choice but to go through it – and you go through it”. But the psychological scar left by the trauma can become a serious mental disorder sometimes affecting normal life. It can lead to neurosis and maybe, also to psychosis.
hmy: What self-help tips do you suggest to relieve Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Dr. Supriya: Like any other medical disorder, managing or treating this mental disorder depends on the severity of the symptoms. If the person is completely disabled by the severity of the symptoms they should seek professional help. There is no shame in seeking the right support. If however, they feel it is manageable, here are some of the common self-help tips that people experiencing PTSD have found useful -:
1. First and foremost it is important to understand and acknowledge the body and brain are recovering from real-life trauma, it has the right to mourn, and you should allow yourself to bereave, to feel the emotions, not try to fight back or hold them back all the time.
As the saying goes- It’s best not to fight against the waves, but ride with them.”
2. Other important things to remember-
- Get to know the triggers or cues that bring back traumatic memories
- Confide in someone, do not withdraw from friends, family, social support around you.
- Give yourself time, you are only a human and are going to experience difficult painful emotions
- Look after your physical health- try to eat, keep yourself hydrated, and remain physically active. Though all these simple routine activities might also seem too hard or tough but keep trying.
- It is easy to fall into substance or drug use to cope with the symptoms as a self-medicating regime. Do not fall into that trap.
Dr. Ganesh Rao: Self-help tips:
a. Not to suppress the memory of the traumatic event but to “talk it out” with “right people”.
b. Rationalize/philosophize its happening and considering it inevitable, carry on with life.
c. Make full utilization of your time in the present to more than compensate for the traumatic happening.
d. Reach out and help others who are going through PTSD.
hmy: What tips do you suggest for relieving family members from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Dr Supriya: It may be an individual or more than one person in the family that might experience PTSD symptoms. Same trauma does not affect everyone in a similar way as to how the trauma or loss is being processed by that person or family depends on multiple other factors like previous exposure to other trauma, social support, some might be experiencing normal natural grieving process, other family members, PTSD, or depression or anxiety or insomnia. The core self-help tips remain the same. As I have already mentioned do not shy away from seeking professional help when needed.
Dr. Ganesh Rao:
- Same tips as above if the family members are also themselves victims of PTSD. Family members who have lost their near and dear ones will always find it hard to cope up with the traumatic loss. They may take professional help, if necessary.
- Family members should be sensitive to the individual who is going through PTSD. They should neither exaggerate the event nor belittle the event, but deal with it as a matter-of-fact way, being ever ready to lend a helping hand to the victim of PTSD without making their help conspicuous.
hmy: How can we prepare and empower ourselves for collective trauma in this 3rd wave?
Dr Supriya: Preparation for 3rd wave would require efforts at the government level, societal level, family, and individual level. I can only speak for family or individual level, which would be to follow the norms set down by the government so as to keep yourself and your near and dear ones safe from acquiring Covid. From a mental health perspective, acknowledging would be a starting point, acknowledging the challenges and the tremendous amount of strain this pandemic has created with all the uncertainty it has unleashed upon us. Being kind to yourself and others and letting yourself grieve and feel the emotions.
Dr Ganesh Rao:
a. Get vaccinated as soon as possible.
b. Take precautions and follow the necessary protocol.
c. Protect children and individuals who have co-morbidities.
d. Stop contributing to the growing fear, negativity, pessimism, and gloom by thought, speech, action, and social media platforms.
e. Help wherever necessary in whatever way possible.
hmy: In hospitals, healthcare workers are suffering from considerable trauma, what would you suggest to hospital management to cope up with this stressful environment?
Dr Supriya: Providing reflective spaces that are nonjudgmental or critical for people to express themselves is one of the key things that organizations can do. Again this is a very wide question and people in the administration or the policymakers would be in a better position to respond to this.
Dr Ganesh Rao: Healthcare workers suffering from trauma in the discharge of their duties:
a. Should be adequately protected health-wise as much as possible
b. Should be rewarded financially (over and above their regular emoluments) and with social recognition
c. Relaxation and entertainment provisions should be made for them to relieve their stress
d. Pranayama and Yoga Nidra sessions can go a long way in countering their stress
hmy: Can this legacy of trauma pass down the generation? Can we avoid it, how?
Dr. Supriya: I would not actually like to call this experience of pandemic a legacy, but yes transgenerational transfer of stress-induced changes in our physical and mental health is an evidence-based fact i.e. impact of stress on the body and brain can be passed to the next generation. But, so is the resilience and coping skills.
Dr. Ganesh Rao: For those who have lost their healthy loved ones, the psychological imprint will inevitably be passed down the generations. In the case of others, who have survived with or without getting infected, the memory will gradually fade. “This too shall pass”