COVID-19 in Mumbai: People with anxiety, fears of death knock doors of psychiatrists
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Even as the city and state reel under a renewed onslaught of coronavirus cases, there has been a corresponding uptick in cases of another sort -- anxiety and depression. Psychiatrists have been seeing a steady stream of patients consumed by pandemic-related concerns. Their anxiety is rooted in fears that the BMC or the state government will impose another lockdown or enforce restrictions which will cause them to lose their job or suffer losses in business. Then there are others worrying about death or living in dread of getting infected if they set foot outside their homes.

However, what is reassuring is that these sufferers know there is help at hand and they are not averse to seeking it. They have been queueing up outside the psychiatric outpatient departments of civic, state and private hospitals, where at least 15-20 patients are being counselled daily.

Psychiatrist Dr Sagar Mundada says individuals who are getting panic attacks or anxiety need to be counselled and made aware of the current situation. This will help them understand what is important in their life, instead of wasting time thinking about coronavirus and its consequences all the time. “I have been counselling more than 15 patients daily and they have all complained of anxiety and depression brought on by fears that a lockdown may be imposed again. I have seen cases where the patients fear losing their jobs or having to isolate themselves again. I suggest that they avoid such negative thinking and cultivate a positive outlook,” he said.

Dr Harish Shetty, psychiatrist, says he has been seeing patients consumed with thoughts of death and dying as they have witnessed doomsday scenarios and feel things will never improve. Many of them are on their own in the city, having come here to pursue their dreams. They find themselves alone now, having come so far away from their families and this is making them anxious and depressed. “Daily, I have been seeing 5-10 patients who complain of anxiety and panic attacks, as they are affected by fears of a lockdown and the rising cases of corona. Then there are people who are afraid of stepping out of the house, for fear of being infected again and so have isolated themselves,” he said.

Take the case of a 33-year-old Dahisar resident, who is working in Mumbai while her elderly parents reside in Kolkata. Last year, when the lockdown was declared, her father met with an accident but she couldn’t go as there were no flights. “Since then, the word lockdown makes me tense. Considering the rising cases in Mumbai, I can’t even get them to the city. This is causing anxiety and I often feel breathless with tension at night, which leaves me sleepless and unable to focus on work, the following day,” she said.

Dr Shetty says he asks his patients to keep themselves busy in their favourite activities, while exercising due care. When their minds are absorbed in such tasks, their thoughts can be diverted from coronavirus and lockdown. “I suggest that my patients listen to music or read humorous stuff during their commute. They have to deal with the current scenario as it is going to remain like this for a while. So, there is no need to crib or think about it constantly. There is nothing they can do other than taking precautionary measures,” he added.

Prakriti Poddar, Managing Trustee, Poddar Foundation of Community Art and Mental Health, says post-lockdown, people have just recovered from a phase of anxiety and depression as the situation limps back to normalcy. The vaccination drive has instilled new hope and spirit among people to fight the pandemic. In such a scenario, yet another round of lockdown could be counterproductive to all. “Daily wage-earners, small traders, salaried employees and maids, to name a few, are in distress and trauma due to loss of livelihood. Yet another round of disruption could push such people into further distress, throwing up the challenge of a mental health crisis,” she said.

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