Sharp rise in COVID-19 patients post-second wave, says top Kolkata psychiatrist

By Bishwanath Ghosh
Doctors and healthcare staff attend to Covid-19 patients at an isolation ward at Rakab Ganj Gurudwara in New Delhi. File photo (Source: The Hindu)

There has been a significant increase in the number of people seeking help for psychological problems following the second wave of COVID-19 that swept through the country in April-May this year, according to a top Kolkata psychiatrist.

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“Pre-COVID days, the proportion of new patients I saw daily was only 20% to 30%, now it is 50% to 60%,” Jai Ranjan Ram, a leading professional in the field of psychiatry and a co-founder of Mental Health Foundation, told The Hindu.

“A bulk of those seeking help are parents whose children are displaying behavioural and emotional disturbances. Prolonged absence from school, the burden of online teaching, inability to have social engagements and illness or deaths due to COVID of family members have taken a huge toll on them,” Dr. Ram said.

Then there also parents of children between two and five years who have not yet been exposed to normal social and educational life due to the pandemic. Since nurseries and play schools are closed and the usual interactions with family members is also missing because many parents are caught up in work-from-home, these children are getting very little stimulation through play and social interaction, which, according to Dr. Ram, is “food for the brain to develop and grow”.

“The impact of it is poor development of language and social milestones. The first 1,000 days of a child's life is critical to their brain growth. The pandemic has taken away almost half of it. This is leading to a significant increase in young children coming to us with delays in language learning, behaviour problems and attention deficit,” he said.

“The other group of people that is seeking help for the first time are those who have lost one or more family members due to COVID-19. Their problems are compounded by economic hardship or the stress of work-from-home. Women have been disproportionately affected by WFH. They have to work from home and work for home too. Depression, anxiety, hopelessness, suicidal ideations and attempts are the manifestations in this group,” Dr. Ram said.

“The other palpable feeling in many patients coming to us is that life will never be the same again,” Dr. Ram said. “Probably the only benefit of the pandemic has been that all of us have become far more conscious of our health, especially mental health.”

Suggesting steps to stay well psychologically, Dr. Ram said it was important to be aware that one could develop anxiety and have low mood and panic attacks under such circumstances and that these were not a sign of weakness, and that there was no shame in asking for help or reaching out to others.

“Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy sleep cycle are important. Seek out activities and company that soothe you. Reach out to those who you feel are going through a difficult phase due to the adversities and offer support. There is great value in being able to help others in lifting their spirits. Be a part of any organisation that is working for the welfare of the marginalisd or those severely affected by the pandemic. This will give you a sense of purpose. Above all, be a stoic and remember that this too shall pass,” the psychiatrist said.


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