Friday, October 22, 2021

Pandemic stress could stick around for a long time, psychologists warn

Fear, anxiety and 'Covid-19 fatigue' all contribute to a decline in mental and emotional well-being.

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Psychologists have warned that the effects of Covid-19 on mental and emotional health could continue not only throughout the pandemic but even after the crisis is resolved, as Malaysians reach the halfway point of yet another lockdown imposed throughout the country amid a fierce spike in infections and deaths.

Siti Inarah Hasim, a clinical psychologist at the International Islamic University Malaysia, said it was possible for people to develop mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in addition to the regular anxiety and stress triggered by pandemic-induced changes.

“We see the pattern of PTSD as a chronic stress response from past trauma,” she told MalaysiaNow.

“However, a recent study suggests that people may also develop symptoms of PTSD by merely imagining a future stressful event.

“They imagine themselves or their loved ones being infected, getting sick or even dying due to the virus, a fitting description of what we have in our current predicament.”

The two-week lockdown from June 1 to 14, enforced under the third instalment of movement control order since the beginning of the pandemic, followed a wave of infections which reached a daily peak of 9,020 on May 29 with a record 126 deaths recorded on June 2.

Siti Inarah said when the pandemic first began last year, people had faced anxiety and depression as they struggled to deal with the changes in their daily routines.

“They imagine themselves or their loved ones being infected, getting sick or even dying due to the virus.”

While many had since accepted the change, she said, others are still struggling to cope.

“A lot of Malaysians are still struggling emotionally. It’s just a matter of whether they are more accepting of the changes or if it is becoming worse.

“Definitely, we are still struggling to maintain our sanity as we enter another year of the pandemic.”

She also warned of “Covid-19 fatigue”, where people become emotionally drained and no longer bother adhering to SOPs.

She said this can be triggered by feelings of stress and lack of motivation as well as uncertainty over the rising case numbers and announcements of lockdown.

“The pandemic’s toll on Malaysians has ripple effects in many areas of their lives.”

“This is even felt by the more fortunate groups who still have their jobs and who work from home without depending on the government’s help to survive,” she said.

Serena In, a clinical psychologist at International Medical University, agreed that recurring uncertainties play a big role in affecting mental health.

She said anxiety and depression could develop out of constant stress due to the fear of losing jobs, health or loved ones – matters which are out of people’s control.

“Sometimes, prolonged periods of feeling out of control can lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

“The pandemic’s toll on Malaysians has ripple effects in many areas of their lives,” she told MalaysiaNow.

Such stress could also affect people’s moods and sleeping patterns, she added.

She urged those experiencing emotional distress to seek help from family members and friends or professionals, should the situation call for it, and to find ways to adjust to the changes brought about by the pandemic.

“It is a process of adjustment,” she said. “Instead of having fixed expectations that life should go back to how it was pre-pandemic for it to be good, be open to the idea that life post-pandemic really is different.”

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