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The Covid-19 pandemic, which has been causing havoc in India and the world for the last one and a half years, has led to many people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, said Dr Pratima Murthy, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences.

In an interview to IANS, Dr Murthy said that it has emerged that Covid-19 doesn't affect just the lungs, but multiple organs in the human body, including the brain. It can cause inflammatory responses in the brain.

"A lot of people are finding it difficult to come out of the trauma, some are facing repeated panic attacks," Murthy said.

She explained that research reports on the long-term consequences of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, a viral respiratory disease associated with coronavirus) and MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) have found that several people are suffering with sleep disturbance, depression, anxiety, and in some rare cases, psychosis.

She stressed on the urgent need to strengthen online mental health services as it has emerged that the long duration of the Covid pandemic is affecting people with fatigue, tiredness, brain fog, memory loss.

There has always been a gap between the need and treatment for mental illness. Somehow, people never feel comfortable talking about their emotions.

"I think now there is a greater awareness of more aspects of mental health among a wider population. We too need to address it at an individual and social level," she added.

Murthy opined that people need to realise that the way they seek medical help for their physical illness, they also need to seek help when they feel mentally stressed. They also have to learn ways to de-stress their mind, to deal with stressful situations. They need to look for ways to engage in safe recreational and relaxing activities.

She emphasised that mental healthcare must be integrated with physical healthcare. The government has step up its district mental health programme but a lot more needs to be done to cover the large population of Covid sufferers.

"We need to understand that our mental health has a direct relation with our physical well-being. Stress, anxiety, fear, depression can lead to many physiological changes in the body and can manifest as any chronic illness such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity," Murthy added.

When asked how tragedies can have a psychological impact on the health of people especially those who have witnessed death during work or in their families, Murthy said people who have been constantly working as healthcare workers, frontline workers, media or others are exposed to a lot of trauma and tragedies, and this can impact their mental and physical health.

She advised that to cope with the trauma, one needs to seek a balance between stories of tragedy and positive stories. "For example, a doctor who has lost some patients to the pandemic, should also look at the patients he or she has saved. If there is a mortality toll, there are also those who have recovered. It is important to see things from a more balanced perspective during such a crisis, however frightening it sometimes is," she said.

Explaining about the pandemic effect on the psycho-social health of children, Murthy said that children have shown the maximum resilience. Children had to adjust to the maximum changes -- from being stuck in homes, new mode of education, then there are a large number of children who have no or limited access to even online education.

"We held a painting competition for children to explore how they managed the lockdown. Though paintings of some children reflected the loneliness and isolation they experienced during the first lockdown, paintings of most children were positive and hopeful," she said

She asserted that lack of access to a lot of developmental activities, especially for children who were out of school or those in vulnerable populations can certainly affect their mental well-being.

During this prolonged confinement at home, children have started using technology for non-academic purposes, which can expose them to other influences such as gaming, gambling and pornography.

"It is an unprecedented crisis, we need to stand stronger -- both physically and mentally -- to be able to face it and come out of it," Murthy added.

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