Omicron fear ups mental stress woes as India returns to normal

New Delhi, Nov 30 (IANS): The growing fear over the new Covid variant called Omicron has left several people sleepless -- especially those under mental stress from the two earlier pandemic waves -- and are suffering from the obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), depression and anxiety, health experts warned on Tuesday.

The fear is seen across age groups -- parents/teachers, traders, workers -- while human life limps back to normal after 18-20 months of job losses, disrupted school education, and health emergencies in the Covid-induced lockdowns.

According to Dr Vipul Rastogi, consultant neuropsychiatrist at Medanta Hospital, Gurugram, the onset of Omicron variant is expected to increase anxiety and stress in people.

"People had just started coming out of the Covid fatigue and this news can destabilise them again," Rastogi told IANS.

The lockdown-related stress in 2020 reportedly caused over 300 cases of suicides from March 19 till May 2. As a result, in September 2020, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment introduced a 24X7 toll-free mental rehabilitation helpline 'KIRAN' in 13 languages.

The second wave of Covid-19 earlier this year turned more lethal, infecting more people and taking more lives. Besides causing financial and physical problems, it also affected people mentally, creating panic in their minds.

The uncertainty about their present and future, coupled with government mandates to stay at home, all exacerbated mental illness. The feeling of being cooped up at home, distant from their loved ones, devoid of social support and fear about new variants increased mental illness, according to mental health experts.

Dr Samir Parikh, Director, Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, at Fortis Healthcare, said that "when we talk about Covid-induced stress, and especially stress related to new variants, we need to understand that it's not necessary that stress will occur only to those who had contracted the Covid infection or faced it in their near and dear ones".

"As things have started reopening, the question that the next wave will bring change to my life can have an impact on people. We came out of it the last time as people helped each other, stayed positive, followed Covid-appropriate behaviour, and cared for each other. We need to remain positive this time too and remain stress-free," Parikh told IANS.

A first-ever global estimate of Covid-19 impact on mental health, that came out in October, revealed that the pandemic has led to a significant rise in major depressive and anxiety disorders globally, affecting women and younger people more in 2020.

The study, published in The Lancet, suggested that additional 53 million cases of major depressive disorder and 76 million cases of anxiety disorders were due to the pandemic.

"Countries hit hardest by the pandemic in 2020 had the greatest increases in cases of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders," said the authors, calling for urgent action by governments and policy makers to strengthen mental health systems globally to meet increased demand due to the pandemic.

According to health experts in India, the most prominent problem reported by people is anxiety and depression. Teens are more stressed out about their future plans, resulting in an existential crisis while the adults are overwhelmed by the fear of survival, financial insecurity, and job security.

According to Dr Arti Anand, senior clinical psychologist at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi, the new variant is going to further create panic fear of socialisation, and increase in OCD symptoms as people will once again fear to go out and interact with friends and family.

"Principles of keeping well like exercise, pursuing hobbies and spending time with families remain prudent in this time," said Rastogi.



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