Mental impact of COVID still a concern for many

Mental impact of COVID still a concern for many

After staying away from crowds for long, some are still apprehensive or nervous about mingling in large gatherings.

Muscat: The COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on the mental health and wellbeing of the people, according to experts.  

People were advised to practice measures such as social distancing and remote learning and working, and told to not venture out of their homes unless it was an emergency – especially during the early days of the pandemic. This affected the psychological wellbeing of some, mental health experts in Oman say.

After staying away from crowds and large gatherings for long, some people in the country are still apprehensive or nervous about mingling in public.

Sahar Salmanian, counselling psychologist at the Whispers of Serenity clinic, a facility that offers mental health services, said many patients who came in for counselling suffered from anxiety, stress and depression.

“These are long-term issues,” she said, speaking to TTV, recently. “Of course, in times of difficulty and crises such as the pandemic, you witness a broader range of these issues, but it doesn’t mean that they occur only during that time. We had a lot of cases related to anxiety, depression and stress. During the pandemic, we also had a lot of cases related to relationship conflicts.

“People had to stay at home, work from home, children had to do home schooling, so it was a new challenge for everyone…how to get along with this new lifestyle,” she explained. Counsellors were required to draft plans to guide people on how to physically and mentally adjust to the unprecedented pandemic situation.

“Most of all, we had to teach people to come up with new ideas, to be creative, to stand by each other and to be patient enough with each other and to go through this new challenge in an easier way,” explained Salmanian.

When asked how strange it was to deal with something as unusual as relationship conflicts due to COVID-19, Salmanian said it was because the situations that arose from the pandemic were ‘forced’ and something ‘new’.

“When something new happens to you, you need time to understand how to cope with it,” she said. “The challenges we faced were mostly related to COVID – the pandemic was new to everyone.”

To counterbalance the absence of in-person counselling sessions during the peak of the pandemic, and to provide people more opportunities to speak to mental health professionals, hotlines were introduced in Oman, while healthcare workers, school counsellors and social workers were offered training to ease both theirs’ and other people’s worries around COVID-19.

While the new avenues for counselling did present some teething troubles initially, these were soon overcome as people got used to and understood the value of online and telephone-based mental health therapy.

“In the beginning, wrapping their heads around online counselling was a bit of a challenge for people, because they were used to coming into the clinic for in-person sessions, but there is a very positive aspect of human beings: we are able to get used to everything,” said Salmanian.

“It took a short time for people to get used to online platforms for counselling, and these days, having an online counselling session as well as related online services are easily accepted by people.

“A lot of clients these days actually prefer online sessions as it is easier for them to sit at home and attend them,” she added. “Maybe, this is the silver lining of COVID-19, as it pushed us to accept this newer form of therapy.”

Another mental health therapist in Oman also agreed with Salmanian’s approach, saying that humanity’s ability to adjust and overcome situations helped them meet the challenges of the pandemic.

“Human nature is to thrive and survive,” said Anuya Phule, a clinical psychotherapist at Hatat Polyclinic.

“People adjusted themselves to this new way of living. Survival mechanisms, however, do bring about negative effects of their own such as mental blocks, anxiety and depression in some people.

“The pandemic did cause mental and emotional distress to many people,” she explained. “Many perceived it as a threat to their sense of safety, either professional or personal. Pressures brought about by adjustments in the new ways of living and functioning, and more importantly, social isolation due to lockdowns, did affect people.”

Another researcher in Oman, Dr Priyanka Verma, explained that the mental health issues related to COVID affected people at both personal and social level.

“The world stopped when the COVID-19 pandemic struck,” she explained. “The restrictions were not only physical, but also mental. Restrictions on movement led to decreased social interactions and increased time spent on social media, further adding to the likelihood of declining mental health.

“Confinement, boredom, monotony, uncertainty and financial worries were just the beginning: fear of infection led to fear of interaction, increased attachment and emotional issues,” added Verma.

“Actual infection led to a whole range of other problems. Social exclusion from society and the course of treatment and recovery takes an emotional toll on the patient and their loved ones.”

Verma added that COVID brought undesirable emotions such as fear, depression and anxiety into human lives.

Their long-term effects lead to mental health disabilities, resulting in panic and stress-related disorders.

The likelihood of mental concerns is enhanced when exposed to social media in conditions of forced isolation and social distancing.

“Preventing mental health from getting worse is of utmost importance during the ongoing COVID era,” she revealed.

“Green therapy, ecotherapy and horticulture therapy are some of the most convincing alternative medicines to cure or manage these issues. Studies show a simple walk in a green park lowers anxiety and stress to a large extent.”