As we begin to “open up” T&T after almost 50 days of lockdown, there is a sense of relief from most quarters. Significant in this entire time of social distancing and shelter in place were the conversations on social media about food—doubles and roti running way ahead of KFC in my estimation of the conversations.
We seem mostly happy to be grooving back into life’s routines, and while it is going to be different from what we had before, that welcome shift to any degree of normalcy comes with coping issues for some people.
The question was asked of us recently in an informal poll, “Do you feel ready to return to normalcy?” Of course my answer was “No.” I remain as distrusting of the reach and consequence of the coronavirus today as I was in January 2020. And that is so because while we have come a long way globally in understanding the science, to my mind, there is still much we do not yet know.
Simply, I would like to stay outside the “experiment” of reintegrating. Being considered high risk and living with underlying health issues, I remain uncertain about breaking my social-distancing and isolating efforts which I began on Carnival Tuesday. My anxieties are real and I am certain that they are for others.
As early as this week, some people are expected to re-enter the world of physical proximity. One can feel the excitement about reuniting with friends, relatives and neighbours, as well. I too, miss my grandchildren. I plan to stay in bed all day with them at the next opportunity. I have seen my son only briefly in this period too, so it would be good to get closer to him.
But as we reintegrate into families, workplaces, and other social situations we must remember to do so responsibly. There needs to be consideration for your welfare and for the well-being of others. While you may be comfortable with the idea of close proximity, many are still living in fear and indeed, caution because of the unknown variables.
And, our worries are not only about contagion. The psychological trauma and injury to our psyche that we have already experienced is one vital aspect for consideration, not only on the individual level, but also collectively within families, communities, states and jurisdictions.
As we “open up” the country, there are many other stressors that our population faces in addition to our concern about our physical or mental well-being.
Some are facing the reality of not having a job to which to return and mounting financial obligations. Financial insecurity caused by this pandemic is itself endemic—job loss, business losses, depleted savings, and mounting debts.
There are families in T&T who have lost their loved ones here and abroad through Covid-19 and otherwise throughout the period and who have not had an opportunity to mourn.
Altogether, Covid-19 is probably going to be determined as the single-most event in our lifetime with the greatest impact on mental health and the largest threat for a global mental health crisis.
An April article by Mevish P Vaishnav in Outlook India addressed this issue saying, “The coronavirus lockdown is going to create financial instability which, in turn, may lead to mental instability for people across nations.”
Speaking on the need to come up with solutions to handling the tough times after the lockdown, Vaishnav writes, “The government can bring a drastic change in the area of mental health by investing more. Coronavirus pandemic will inflict a scar on people’s minds that will be difficult to heal if not addressed immediately.”
About the related stigma, he said, “The fear is of getting tagged as (a) Covid patient and harassment by society might linger longer.”
Post-Covid, which is not anywhere near just yet, we need to have strategies for restoring people’s lives and especially their mental health and well-being. Post-lockdown we need to have similar strategies:
• More and better access to psychological counselling services both by government and other related professional organisations.
• Education programmes on stress, anxiety, depression and other disorders including PTSD, as likely effects of the pandemic, lockdown, isolation, and distancing.
• Recovery education programme directed regularly to teaching coping strategies with these issues above in schools, communities and workplaces.
• Well-advertised state and other professional/private helplines for aiding recovery.
The WHO states, “Mental health and well-being are fundamental to quality of life, enabling people to experience life as meaningful, become creative and active citizens”. This should be a major part of our government’s road to recovery.
Our government needs to show their understanding and value of mental health and well-being by the emphasis and monetary investment placed in those recovery services and interventions.