Imagine a person who is afraid of closed spaces but is compelled to stay isolated in his house. No more morning and evening walks.
Children away from school, friends, peer groups and classes. Imagine people stuck in their homes with domestic violence or some form of estrangement between couples. These are the disasters we have only seen in films.
But with the novel coronavirus or COVID-19, it is important to think of the impact it will have in our lives for the years to come.
“Most of the impact will be on youngsters and children because parents are getting irritable with issues such as financial difficulties. We are forced to come out of our comfort zone because we are so used to living a particular lifestyle. The uncertainty and fear are horrible,” says Dr Purnima Nagaraja, Psychiatrist and Therapist, Dhrithi Wellness Clinic.
Experts believe the impact may last longer than the virus. “Post-traumatic stress disorder the trauma of staying home, the trauma of not working, financial irregularities, being homeless, etc. deep traumas. People get nightmares, are irritable and get anxiety panic attacks. Then there is obsessive compulsive disorder, where children are forced to wash their hands, so they become paranoid,” Dr Purnima says.
“There is already many obsessive-compulsive disorder cases around, even among people who have not shown such symptoms before, thanks to contentiously washing hands and surfaces, washing vegetables, keeping fridge clean, etc.”
According to Dr Purnima, all these contribute to an obsessive disorder. “These impacts will remain for a very long time even after the virus has left the stratosphere. We will still be worried about washing our hands and cleanliness,” warns Dr Purnima.
Man is a social animal and needs friends and people around. In fact, newspapers reported of many in Spain being impacted because there was nobody on the roads.
Anju Khemani, founder of the Drama Association of the Deaf (DAD), echoes sombre thoughts of what lies ahead.
“I don’t think humankind has ever been this high on hubris. I agree COVID-19 has altered the society temporarily, but I am not sure if people will remain altered that way because we tend to forget. Technology, lopsided economy and demagogic politics create a sense of being invincible. Though for now the pandemic is holding a mirror to us, I doubt if it will bring us on our knees. People will horde more, discriminate more and work towards self-preservation,” warns Anju. “And the children are going to learn the same.”
Anju talks about the millions who need help and all those who are scared to help. “Understandably, perhaps. But I cannot even imagine what is going to happen to the millions of workers in the unorganised sector. Their lives will change forever. Their losses, both of life and livelihood, will be beyond repair. So many are returning homes across borders and cities with families. Their children will not forget the exodus,” she adds.
However, Shilpa Datla, entrepreneur and mother, who sees the virus as a great leveller, shares a different perspective.
“The virus has been affecting people irrespective of their wealth and social status. You could be Prince Charles or a common man... you are susceptible to circumstances. So, a great learning to kids, making them aware of the situation. That could be one line of thought,” she chips in.
“I don’t, however, think attitudes will change significantly. The human behaviour has evolved over millennia through countless interactions, and it is unlikely even during the event like the COVID-19 pandemic that long-term behaviours would change. In a manner that 9/11 changed security and travel precautions, businesses would start building business continuity and business recovery plans.”
Once the lockdown is over, the job of mental health professionals may double up. For one, children will need more psychological attention.
“Social distancing for a child will be very difficult not being allowed to go out and play, not being allowed to run on roads etc.,” she points out. “So, children can get frustrated which will raise anger, irritation and behaviour patterns like never before. Moreover, it is a difficult period for parents too, holding a child down at home or a room. No matter how big your house is, this paranoia will surely cause frustration. Sometimes, not being in control of a situation can affect your thoughts and minds.”
Dr Purnima also thinks the anxiety will not leave us for a long time. “People will say let’s meditate on this as things are going to be harsh. Nobody is going to come out of this. But we will have to try and come out of it without fear, even though these scars may stay on forever,” she says signing off.