Certain groups, like Gen Z teens and young adults, have been particularly affected by chronic stress due to the pandemic.

Anthropology: Mental Health and the Psychosocial Effects of the Covid-19 Pandemic

As I pen down these lines today, it is almost 17 months since nations world over started announcing “Lockdowns”. Although most of us are now familiar with terms like “Quarantine” , “Lockdown”, “Corona – Covid-19 Pandemic”, “Social distancing”, “Hand sanitizer” , and so on, let me share a quick information on all of these:

  • Covid-19 Pandemic – A worldwide pandemic was declared officially by WHO on 11th March 2020, on the account of spread of fatal virus called as Corona (SARS-Cov2) that was first discovered in Wuhan, China.
  • Lockdown – In order to contain the spread of the infectious virus, nations decided to curb the movement of people. As the virus can communicate from person to person via air, objects they touch and hands, nation wide lockdowns were (are) observed to prevent further increase in the number of Covid-19 positive cases.
Important "new normal" behavior. Staying home, In public following social distance, wearing masks, frequently washing hands and avoid touching face.
Illustrations of new normal norms (Image Credit: Pinterest)
  • New Normal – Even when lockdowns were lifted, people were instructed to observe “New Normal Norms”. Minimum two meters of distance is essential between people to avoid any contact with the virus (Social distancing). Since it affects the respiratory system badly, everyone is supposed to cover their nose and mouth with mask. Since hands are carriers of this pathogen, it is recommended to sanitize your hands frequently or wash in soap for at least twenty seconds.
  • Quarantine – If at all you get affected, you are supposed to completely isolate yourself for fourteen days and follow the diet and medicines prescribed by the doctors. This is known as fourteen-days-quarantine.

When every nation is struggling to combat the epidemic with vaccines they have manufactured, the virus is also mutating to new structures with stronger ability to spread and affect people. The globe came to a standstill due to a single microbe that is not even visible to our naked eyes. Today, eleven of its children that is, its mutated forms are roaming around catching people and keeping the entire world on its toes.

Lockdown and its effects

As the name suggests, it is completely shutting down and bringing people to a stand still. By holding people stagnant at their own places, number of infections and spread of the virus can be brought down effectively. There are two types of Lockdown:

  1. Complete Lockdown: This is imposed nation wide or state wide and there is strictly no movement at all. Similar to curfew, unless there is any medical emergency, you are expected to stay indoors
  2. Restricted Lockdown: In this restrictions are imposed in terms of time and occupancy. Limited movement with time restriction in place where all offices and/or any public place run only on 50% of its full capacity

While both the types of lockdown had their own pitfalls, declaring national lockdowns levied heavy cost on the economy of all countries. With no people moving around, businesses slowed down. Transport industry faced heavy loss due to lack of business. Schools and Colleges remained closed for months and started operating through online mode. This was a completely unprecedented situation where neither the teachers nor the students were prepared for it. The school or college managements were not well equipped to operate in remote completely, to take classes or conduct exams.

Most importantly, hospitals started running out of beds. Irrespective of the sector, both public and private faced crisis. Consumer market grew dull and hence there was no cash flow. Especially the medium and small scale businesses got affected. Daily wage labourers suffered to make a living. At the time when medical expenses shot up, people were equally worried about earning a living. People lost jobs or worked longer hours without pay.

At the time of announcement of lockdowns, people tend to get anxious and panicky. They tried hoarding up all supplies as it was uncertain as to when the restrictions may get lifted or extended. This also led to imbalanced distribution of essentials that caused sufferings like hunger. For sure, the Covid-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the overall health of the people.

World through the lockdown

Immobility has become the key solution to contain the pandemic. Which is why the scope for virtual space is growing multi-fold. Starting from education to work, everything boiled down to a laptop screen. From your favourite dress to hot foods everything can be ordered through a number of mobile apps. You need not move an inch from your house to get almost anything. So, life has in a way simplified.

When IT giants found that employees could work remotely with decent or even better efficiency, with consistent client satisfaction, it is predicted by experts that “Virtual Workspaces” , “Work from Home” would become the future of IT industry, even if the world returns to “Old Normal” after the offset of the ongoing epidemic. It is convincing also because, they save a lot of money spent for Electricity, Water, Maintenance, Rent, Transport and other miscellaneous expenses incurred for a physical office work style.

People are now getting used to being “Lockdown-ready”, by learning to live with minimum resources. They have become more aware about amount and type of things to be stocked. This is a good lesson to take with us even if the pandemic ends. Because, this is the smallest way in which one can contribute to the uniform distribution of resources.

“Cleanliness is next to Godliness” – as the phrase goes, we realize how much it really values. We have now learnt that ‘Health’ is the biggest wealth that anyone can own. If it turns out to become a general habit of all the people to stay clean and hygienic, there is very less possibility that the world will face such an epidemic again. It all lies in our hands, I mean, literally!

Impacts on Mental health

Graph that shows statistics on Mental Health by location during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Credit: Statista

This being the heart of this post, I have dissected it for better analysis. Lets see them one by one:

Age Wise

Unborn Children in the wombs of expecting mothers are under threat of the deadly virus being infected. The mental and physical health of the mother affects the child directly. Due to lockdowns, it was specifically difficult for pregnant women to reach out to their Gynaecologists for regular checkups or emergencies.

Toddlers (1-3 years) who are supposed to move freely around and learn to walk and talk are now seeing only their parents and the four walls of the house. With very little activities, it is almost like they are growing up with the new normal norms. They may grow up thinking that humans on the planet live by the new normal (using mask, sanitizer and social distancing), unless the situation changes for better.

Preschoolers( 4 – 5 years) in the kinder garden are taking recorded classes on the tabs or laptops in their house. As children they are definitely not mature enough to handle it all by themselves or have the patience to learn through the videos. So, parents/ guardians have to sit by their side all the time to make them attend the class and teach them. This puts both the parents and the child in a tight spot.

Typical picture showing a busy mom working from home on laptop in one hand and holding her kid on the other hand.
Mother working from home (Image Credit: The Hindu)

School going (6 – 12 years) kids in their primary classes are taking their live classes with teachers and friends sitting in the little boxes on their screen. They are getting used to this method of learning, submitting assignments and attending the exams. As this is beyond their level of patience and to be always within four walls is stressing them, about 76.6% of them tend to lack concentration.

Adolescents (13 – 18 years) were in their crucial stage of education. They were supposed to give their board exams, that decide their under graduation. Due to unexpected restrictions on and off, they were anxious and had to be always ready to take the exam. This held them with paramount stress and depression.

Young Adults ( 19 – 30 years) studying college or working in a company, had to do it virtually. For the new college students, strangely they all had to meet their peers online and finished their first year of college that way. This created a psychological barrier among students to build a healthy friendship as a distance relationship.

For the working people in this age group it was hard to land into a job, as campus placement drives were not promising. Due to economic crisis, freshers were not absorbed readily.

Middle Aged adults ( 31 – 45 years) working in a company, depending on the profession faced mental stress. Also, meeting up with basic requirements like paying rent, electricity bills, buying groceries and food, paying school fees for children that increased on the account of taking online classes were difficult. Hence, as parents they face a lot of mental pressure.

Old aged adults (above 45 years) were tensed, being in the most vulnerable bracket of getting affected. They had hard time connecting with their friends and did not get any device to contact one virtually. They are under depression and feel isolated as everyone else in the family is busy minding their own screens.

Gender Wise

Men are prone to get affected by the novel virus more than women. Mentally, they are weak due to fear, worry, insecurity, social pressure and stress. Due to pay cuts and lay offs, men are worried about financial security. In case they get affected, they must have sufficient backup to spend for the treatment depending on severity of infection. But this is not always the case. Middle and lower income groups are therefore adversely affected.

Women face more health risks compared to men. As working professionals they also share the pressure to meet the basic needs of household with men. So, the stress can affect their menstrual cycle. With increased house chores, they have to tackle the demanding tasks.

Especially pregnant women, although researches so far do not prove any increased threat or transmission of virus to the fetus, a modelling study by LMIC suggested that pre-natal care has went down by 18% and could go down to 51.9%.Similarly, there is reduction in the post-natal care. Primary care givers are under potential threat. Put together, the expecting mothers are also under severe mental stress and tension.

Quick Stats based on surveys from around the world

  • According to a survey in America, 77% people felt more depressed after pandemic than before. 59% felt isolated. 45% of them faced health issues physically and mentally
  • In a survey conducted in China, 26.9% people faced mental distress and 31.8% felt depressed.

Profession Wise

Daily wage laborers and Small time businessmen were adversely affected. Due to uncertainty and lack of backup finance plans they both suffered. Especially, the daily wagers are struck by poverty and in case they test positive of corona they are under heavy financial strain.

IT professionals started working from home completely and this could be the future trend in the coming times. Practically it is difficult to work hassle free and with complete concentration, as the environment is not perfect. Due to lack of proper desk and seat, people were not able to sit in laptops for long hours. This resulted in neck and back pain.

Government officials faced equal stress as the private sector as they were asked to work in rotation in with 50% occupancy during certain restrictions. Handling the social issues is difficult for the admin level government officials like counselor, collector and so on as they face the public straight.

Public servants – Be it Politicians, Police officials or Judicial bodies , they were all bound to work 24/7. Especially the police personnel were deployed to maintain the new norms in public which is why they were in high risk zone more than anyone else. Their families were equally traumatized because, they have to distance themselves from their father/ husband as they should not touch each other. Even after getting back from work, they did not have space or time to spend with their family. Thus, they are prone to mental health conditions like burnout syndrome, psychological disturbance, anxiety, job-stress and post-traumatic stress disorder

Teachers were equally stressed as the children. To get the attention of all the children even in a physical class is difficult when it comes to primary classes. The secondary class teachers were under immense pressure to cope with the delays and cover the portions. Conducting exams was the most onerous task, as they have to make sure that it is held fairly without any malpractices.

Picture of laptop screen while virtual class is going on where teacher and students are sitting in box sized screens.
Virtual class conducted in a class remotely (Image Credit: Pinterest)

Frontline workers are the true warriors who are fighting against the virus directly on the field! Already the number of health workers is very less to cater to the growing population. At these crucial times health care sector faced heavy loads that they were not prepared for. Doctors were not aware of treatment methods, nurses did not know how to deal with the infected patients. If not for these people who have been working non-stop for the past 17 months, the world would have turned into a graveyard.

Doctors are getting tired and losing patience. Their work-life balance is severely affected. With the PPE kits, they can’t eat or use the washroom for hours and they can neither admit their mental distress to patients. They are another victim of burnout syndrome. Seeing patients suffer and updating their family about their status is an additional stress to them. On the whole, the situation has affected their mental health in more than one ways.

Personality Wise

Introverts are generally reserved people who do not mingle / socialize easily. They do not initiate conversations which is why they are stressed due to lockdowns. They are unable to find ways to interact with fellow people as they would also need some interpersonal connections as a human being to keep their emotional state. These kinds of people are under stress, anxiety and tired.

Extroverts are people who like to interact with others and build a network of friends. Although virtual platform has opened new avenues, it is not the way these people expect typically. Being not able to go out with dear ones, poses stress, anxiety, frustration and mental tension

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) famously known for people who get obsessed about cleanliness are now under extreme trauma. Their degree of cleanliness has now raised its bar due to “new normal”, which keeps them on the edge of the seat. They are always worried, fearful, stressed and tensed.

United we stand today, we can shake hands tomorrow

The birth of a tiny, invisible microbe has stumbled the globe for past one and a half years. It has necessarily impacted the way of life positively, but more negatively for majority of the crowd.

Spending time with family in the house, getting a break from the frantic life with deadlines and rush, discovering old remedies and traditional food with medicinal values, following indigenous cultural practices to greet (to avoid touching each other while hugging or shaking hands) , countries coming together for helping each other (Pakistan and China helping India, India helping the US) – are some of the positive takeaways from the outbreak of pandemic.

Yet, the negative outcomes have outnumbered the positive ones to an extent that we forgot the above encouraging aspects totally. Although everyone was getting together at home, practically it was difficult to mimic the office / school setup. Family was fighting for laptops and WiFi enabled spots at home for doing their work. Staying indoors constantly can seriously affect the mental health. It leads to stress, irritation and lack of mental stability.

When people boasted about living the digital age of the world, the pandemic slapped us to reality that the health care sector is still behind.

Image with statistics of the density of selective health force around the world.
Density of health workforce per 10000 people (Image Credit: WHO)

Based on the above statistics, the number of health workers are sparse even before the pandemic. The health care sector is still under research and development on many fatal but predominant diseases. Isn’t this the need of the hour now?

Pre and post covid, the world has toppled completely. Children were asked to be kept away from mobile/ laptop/ TV screens to save them from radiations that may affect their health. But today, it is inevitable to give them these devices so that they can attend online classes. Although it is forecast by IMF that there is a projected growth of 5.5% in global GDP after a decline of 3.5% in 2020 by, let us hope that things will change for better in daily life. With relentless efforts from researchers, scientists, doctors, you and me, let us one day see each other in person, face-to-face fully without any mask, shake our hands as a sign of victory and throw the sanitizer bottles away!

3 thoughts on “Anthropology: Mental Health and the Psychosocial Effects of the Covid-19 Pandemic

  1. @bleuwater Thank you so much for taking your time out to read my post!

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