The Post- Pandemic Psychology in Pakistan

Author Name: Ghanwah Ijaz       20 Apr 2020     Society

In 2003 more than two dozen countries in Europe, North America, South America, and Asia were severely infected by a respiratory virus identified as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). By the time Sars global outbreak was contained, the virus had transmitted to over 8000 people, putting an end to 800 lives worldwide. At present, an advanced respiratory malady SAR-CoV-2 has emerged, causing COVID-19 disease. The COVID-19 has surpassed the 2003 Sars outbreak with a huge margin as of April 15, 2020, over 2,008,850 cases of COVID-19 have been reported with 129,045 causalities around the world; with no end in sight.

The world reckons that the COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest global crisis of this century. It threatens each of the 7.8 billion people on Earth. The pundits opine that due to this pandemic, the impact of the financial and economic crisis could far exceed that of “The Great Recession 2008-2009”. Furthermore, the study of previous pandemics suggests that these lethal epidemics not only result in enduring socio-economic uncertainty but also induce traumatic effects on the psychological health of a population both, during the crisis and afterward.

In order to restrain coronavirus transmission, the global health emergency has been imposed. These precautionary measures have disrupted everyday life and obtruded severe threats to a person's life by interposing additional stress and xenophobia. Resultantly, it is triggering vulnerabilities of psychological distress including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. The symptoms of PTSD tend to be more severe in people who have a high mortality risk, low social support and the ones whose close relatives had suffered or died from the disease. Regarding the psychological facet of COVID-19 as a ‘yet to be revealed’ and ‘secondary crisis’, the international community needs to concentrate on ‘how to manage the psychological suffering of large-scale disasters such as Coronavirus.’

Pakistan, a country rich in family-oriented traditions, is likely to be more severely affected by the psychological distress arising due to rigorous measures. People are dealing with anxiety, stress, fear and other psychological issues due to the lockdown in their houses, disruption of routine, separation from family and friends, shortage of food and medicines, wage loss, closure of educational institutions, and other stresses and strains of life. While on one hand, the novel coronavirus has triggered physiological suffering, on the other, it has also impacted the psychological state of an individual adversely. The irony is that the psychological health care system is woefully deficient in Pakistan and any attempt of accessing psychological help is considered a taboo. This psychological crisis is fast approaching behind COVID-19 outbreak. The authorities and public at large should recognize the gravity of this at least, if tackling is not in COVID-19 response agenda for now.

The government needs to take preemptive measures to be able to manage the crisis already knocking on our door. The first-line intervention (i.e. quarantine) for the reduction of morbidity and mortality bore witness to the right step in the right direction; but the longer people are isolated from their normalness, this disruption would trigger vulnerabilities particularly in people who are vulnerable already. It is likely that even those who aren’t infected with coronavirus could also develop psychological symptoms of mood disorders and lasting anxiety disorders due to isolation, confinement or even if quarantined for a prolonged period.

Historically, pandemics especially involving quarantine add a huge burden on economic and social life. People become vulnerable due to abrupt shutdown of the social domain, due to which, other social and public health problems arise (i.e. domestic violence). The reason being that around the world individuals have certain tolerance gauge that are already more than half-full but especially during the times of crisis, they experience additional amounts of stress therefore, becoming intolerant to a greater extent. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought women and children at high risk of PTSD as unfortunately; in patriarchal societies men channelize their frustration and wrath on their spouse or children in the shape of physical assault. At present, divorce rates spike across the world whereas, in Pakistan, the current corona-induced lockdown domestic abuse and violence is on the rise.

Pakistan has begun taking small-scale steps to reduce severe lockdown. Tout de suite the government and the policymakers need a pragmatic approach to efficaciously manage the mental health of the people, in the COVID-19 pandemic, or else, the ‘traditional spiritual healers’ will call the shots for PTSD. The government needs to blend investment and technology in the mental health sector, as PTSD carries the potential to increase distress in Pakistan in future.

As argued earlier, it is important to understand the core of any mental suffering. Besides coronavirus, there are infinite difficulties attached to it. The government can take the following steps to suspect, identify, and give proper treatment to the affectees. To tackle the issue of domestic violence the government can consider the creation of online domestic violence cells to help victims timely report to the relevant authorities. To manage the monetary burden on people the government can consider extending public-friendly personal loans for people who are employed but will not be paid by the respective agencies in the course of lockdown.

In a study, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychologist, found that social isolation is twice as harmful to a person’s physical health as obesity. People are heading towards depression as they are dragged to a lifestyle they have never experienced before. Where on one side, the Pakistani traditional family culture can help in engaging the individuals, on the other side, electronic and social media can be utilized in organizing various family-oriented content and activities.

Pakistani authorities and people must acknowledge that this is a nerve-testing time. The efforts of the government will remain in vain if people are not taken on board. This is the time where people and government are depending upon one another. Furthermore, the future of COVID-19 is uncertain, people are fearful about what the next few weeks and months hold. The Pakistani authorities are adopting extraordinary measures to prevent the contagion and limit the outbreak but now the government needs to further look into assessing and addressing pandemic-related emotional distress, social and behavioral problems. While it’s easy to predict that this pandemic will have profound psychological effects on the people living through it, it will depend on both, the government as well as the people to handle it jointly and reduce its impact on our future.

 

Ghanwah Ijaz is a research fellow at Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS). This article was first published in Daily NHT newspaper http://dailynht.com/epaper/main.php?action=epaper&id=main&page=5&dt=20-04-2020She can be reached at cass.thinkers@gmail.com.