Dr Debashish Ray, renowned psychiatrist takes time off from his busy schedule to tell us how to battle pandemic depression.
Editor’s Note: In Delhi, a friend just lost his mother to Covid-19. He and his wife too, both in their 50s, have tested positive with the double mutant version of the virus. He wrote in a message full of the utter despair and devastation which has gripped people during the second wave of the deadly and dreaded COVID-19:
“The air is thick with the stench of death. People are either dying or consumed by the fear of death. I am one of them. A few days ago the family was ensnared by Covid. The double mutant strain proved too much for my frail mother to fight. For me and my wife, we fought with the last bits of our inner strength. We are seeing a light at the end of this long, dark, double mutant tunnel. We are almost there with basic recovery. It will be a while before the deep, psychological scars heal, long time after the poor lung is back to being shipshape.”
Dr Ray, who dealt with hundreds of patients of depression during the first wave of the pandemic , urges everyone to “hold dearly onto that light that is visible at the end of the deep, dark tunnel.” He writes to our readers, suffering similar fear, despair, depression and really fatigue, in the hope that they heal, psychologically and physically.
“Don’t give up. Even if you experience just a moment of hope and happiness in these terrible, terrifying times, know that you must grasp it with all your strength and stretch it as though that is all you know how to feel. Feel the power of that and desire to chase away every other thought, every other feeling. Get rid of every feeling that drags you down to the depths of despair. No matter what the external circumstances are.
“This is the first step in curing the psychological disorders associated with the pandemic.
“No, it is not easy. It is easier said than done when you or your loved ones are suffering physically or psychologically. The trauma of losing a loved one is terrible enough. When that death is caused by Covid when one is not even allowed to go near them far less cremate or bury them, that trauma gets multiplied manifold. Other kinds of fears have surfaced during the pandemic including the phobia of landing up in hospital far from family or friends. I have dealt with cases of people who dreaded being shifted to infectious diseases hospitals for fear of contracting other diseases. People from certain economic backgrounds fear finding themselves in clinics, nursing homes or other health facilities which would be below the standards they are used to. There are endless different phobias and fears that the pandemic has spawned.
“The depressions associated with the uncertainties of lockdown, lack of freedom, loss of jobs, monetary troubles and other kinds of unfortunate situations which people were plunged into too have doubled and tripled during the pandemic.
“However, once you practice the psychological exercise of extending your moments of happiness and hope, you would gradually regain lost strength, first in the mind and then in the body.
“Corona is a deadly virus and when it attacks it can create havoc inside the body and make one severely ill requiring hospitalization and professional treatment. The death rates indicate that it is highly fatal.
“I will write about the physiological dimensions in a later article but today I wanted to focus on dealing with some of the psychological disorders.
“I highly recommend exposure to sun, especially in the mornings, in order to boost production of Vitamin-D, which is key to building up immunity, vital to fighting viruses.
“Vitamin-D is found in foods such as fatty fish like salmon and tuna and egg yolks. For vegetarians a good source of Vitamin-D are vegetables like mushroom and dairy products, especially fortified milk and cheese as well as different kinds of cereals.
“I suggest to those suffering from trauma and depression that they engage in activities that reduce anxiety such as cooking, gardening, meditating, reading books, watching television and of course, one of my personal favourites, listening to music.
“Talking to friends or family, discussing lighter topics not related to the pandemic would be a great way to discourage thoughts that trigger hopelessness. I often advice my patients to tell and listen to jokes because laughter, to reiterate the adage, ‘is the best medicine’.
“Always believe that you will get better, psychologically. When you get better psychologically, you will get better physically. A happy mind is the key to a healthy body.”