As if serious threats to our physical health was not enough, creating havoc with our economy and social behavior, our mental health is also affected by COVID-19 due to the lockdown, possible discontinuation of employment and basically the uncertainty of it all. Self-quarantine and isolation, for an unknown period of time, is an idea alien to most of us. “The pure fact of being confined affects the body. If you change your environment in a quite extreme way, it is changing you. Being confined and isolated affects the human physiology as a whole,” says Alexander Chouker, a physician researcher who studies stress immunology at the University of Munich. He has observed radical changes in the bodies of people participating in simulations of manned spaceflight missions like Mars-500.
Formal, detailed research on the psychological toll of social distancing during epidemics is limited. The March 14 issue of Lancet though, has evaluations of 24 studies looking at the psychological outcomes of people who were quarantined during outbreaks of SARS, H1N1 flu, Ebola and other infectious diseases. Many quarantined individuals experienced both short- and long-term mental health problems, including stress, insomnia, emotional exhaustion and substance abuse.
Keeping this in mind, the Government of Sindh and UNDP aim to increase awareness on COVID-19’s impact on mental health, particularly on the most vulnerable populations. And not just that, together we are providing hands-on psycho-social support through trained psychologists.
With UNDP’ assistance, the government of Sindh has launched a tele-counselling service for confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients to help them cope with the psychological impact of COVID-19 pandemic. A helpline (1093) has been established and the services can be accessed through its official website as well as mobile apps on both android and IOS. 25 psychiatrists and psychological experts have been hired to provide counselling to people facing mental health challenges while living in self-isolation or at quarantine centers. We are presently looking into upscaling this service to the national level. By providing a platform for people to talk to trained experts, we can help people channel their feelings in the right direction. And that’s the first step in the journey to well-being.
Ayesha Babar is the Communications Analyst and Head of Communication Unit at UNDP, Pakistan.
Ayesha has extensive experience in the field of communication. Her career has taken her through diverse and diametrically opposite fields such as the military and electronic media. She has headed communications for the logistics wing of Pakistan Army, launched two Pashto-language T.V. channels and also headed communications for the European Union Delegation in Pakistan. She is a pragmatist and loves samosas and dogs.