“Mum, when will this virus go away?”

१४ श्रावण २०७७, बुधबार २१:२०

My eight-year-old daughter, at times, asks, “Mum, when will this virus go away?” and I don’t have the right rejoinder right away, but respond swiftly “yes, my dear, hopefully soon!”

Since COVID – 19 hit the globe, I started walking around the neighbourhood as that was the only excuse to get out of the house. I set up my office space by the window to make it look fresher. I could see people walking on the footpaths— some of my neighbours waving their hands.

We joined the neighbourhood initiative of displaying teddy bears to make it child friendly for the passers-by. My eight-year-old daughter loved doing it every day, and all her teddies certainly attracted the children from the neighbourhood. Looking out from the window while working on my dual screen computers, I noticed a three-year-old visiting our front yard and counting those teddies. One day the parents of the toddler told me that ours was his favourite house and he “needs to visit the teddies every day.” This made me feel thrilled – a small effort had made the toddler happy, I realized.

This made me think whether we have considered the emotional wellbeing of the populations in general. Our mood is flowing with the restrictions put in place due to the corona-virus pandemic and the fear of getting contracted by the virus – that have jeopardized psycho-social wellbeing at personal and communal levels in many folds. We have seen that the lockdown has made the population of our community even more vulnerable financially, socially and psychologically, and mentally.

This has aggravated the level of poverty and mental health burden in the society globally. Imposed restriction measures have produced extreme anxiety among people who are already struggling for their own survival and that have adversely affected their well-being. An increased number of suicides, family violence incidents, depressions and other forms of violence are evident, displaying the severity of the covid-19’s impact upon human population and their health locally and globally.

I am an immigrant living in Australia with my husband and two daughters while most of my relatives and family members live in Nepal. We worry each-other since the pandemic began; I worry about my scattered family members the most.

The questions—whether they are safe or not, what if they tested positive and got worse— reign in my mind, keeping me aloof and depressed at times. Uncertainties loom large. I worry—if we hit hard by the virus— whether I will still have the job to manage my family expenses in coming days, whether I will still have my pantry storing enough food. However, I try my best to ward off those feelings, by not talking about it, not thinking about it, but rather keeping myself busy with my other chores like a normal day before the pandemic.

There are many people who cannot help but thinking of this deadly virus. Such thoughts put people in additional pressure and once they reach the threshold, they will no longer be able to perform well mentally and emotionally.

There are many people in our community who have already lost their income, have separated from their families. They are struggling to manage everything that one needs daily while being and feeling socially isolated.

We all need to take such impacts critically and seriously before it becomes severe. Whether you are rich or poor, educated or uneducated, employed or unemployed, living in a village or a city, have a single or extended family, the pandemic is not going to leave anyone if we do not take its impacts into account.

It is important to remind ourselves that expressing the feelings is important for our wellbeing. We can do that by generating positive community interactions, providing access to services and resources that people need to feel emotionally and socially safe.

It is critical that the government and stakeholders pay attention to the long-term psycho-social impacts of this pandemic by assessing associated morbidities, mortalities, and relative consequences resulting in the society. Improvement to risk communication approach is required to minimise the stress, as the conflicting information shared at different levels and media is adding to the feelings of insecurities and confusion in the community.

If not addressed, the level of anger grows, and people start responding aggressively when communication are inconsistent, confusing and poorly informed by the evidence—that is what we have witnessed. It is imperative to make a call of fostering community conversations, enabling connections and sharing positive messages, so people can start to look at the bright side.  

This requires both universal and targeted approaches to reach different segments of populations and settings with the appropriate messaging. We need to use a positive incentive approach outlining the benefits of the appropriate behaviour to control the outbreak and stop the spread in the community.

The benefits is not about financial incentives, it is about keeping the community safe and protecting our populations from all forms of risks. Before it is too late – as this could result into another outbreak of rising social and mental health problems – decision makers, service providers, stakeholders, and community should take psycho-social impacts of this pandemic seriously and put appropriate measures in place, so that we can aspire for positive health and wellbeing of our community.

Author’s bio: Dr Sabi Kaphle is a Public Health Lecturer at CQUniversity in Melbourne, with more than 20 years’ experience in the health sector in Australia and internationally. She’s also a mother to primary and secondary school students, living in Melbourne.

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