Mental Health Awareness Month: What are frontline workers are doing to keep mentally fit
Photo Credit: PTI

The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus has resulted in an unthinkable scenario across the globe. What once was thought to be only a fiction — quarantine and social distancing — has now become commonplace globally as governments make concerted efforts to fight the spiralling coronavirus outbreak. According to a study by ‘The Lancet’, a well-known medical journal, the psychological impact of such a scenario can be great leading to mental health concerns from anxiety and anger to sleep disturbances, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

With the cases rising each day in India, the coronavirus frontline warriors — doctors, nurses, police personnel and many others — are in a precarious position. These professionals, while trying hard to serve the people are likely to experience fear, anxiety, and a sense of powerlessness. And in such a scenario, what are these professionals doing to keep their mental well-being in check?

Kishori Pednekar, Mayor of Mumbai and a former nurse, was back in her white uniform to offer her services to the COVID-only Nair hospital. Sharing her insight on stress management Pednekar said, "Such incidents are unprecedented and need to be handled carefully. When such a situation arises the regular textbook hierarchy of the ranks needs to be side-lined. It has to be a team effort without playing the blame game.”

To boost her mental health, Pednekar compulsorily follows an exercise regimen involving walking, rope skipping and meditation, once she is off duty. “Human mind can sway to the darkest thoughts and to avoid it, keeping it occupied is very important,” she says.

Radha Nair, Senior Head Nurse, Saifee Hospital says praying, meditation and healthy eating helps her keep her mental health in check. “I pray and meditate to help me cope up with stress. I keep myself physically strong with good nutrition, high protein diet, rest, and, of course, following safety guidelines when at work and at home. My family, friends, and society I live in, support me which helps me endure in these moments,” she says.

Sonawalla advices warriors to follow a routine, get good sleep, try to eat healthily and exercise daily. Her most important advice is not to isolate oneself totally from the others. The warriors can stay connected with family and friends via voice or video calls. That will give them a breather from the stress.

Doctors and other frontline warriors need to keep things in perspective: human beings have gotten through major crises before, and we shall get through this one too. “Remind yourself that we are all in this together as the human race and these are challenging times for everyone. If you feel your symptoms getting out of control, do not hesitate to seek professional help," says Dr Shamshah Sonawalla, Consultant and Associate Director, Psychiatry, Jaslok Hospital, and Research Centre.

Speaking about what she does to keep her mental wellness intact, Sonawalla says she limits the consumption of news around coronavirus and also minimises the use of social media. "A good part of my day is devoted to work, with online consults and counselling sessions. I try to be there for my patients and also try to raise awareness regarding mental health issues in whatever way I can. I also try and get in some amount of exercise on most days of the week, practice meditation and stay connected with family and friends. In my free time, I like to read or indulge in music," she adds.

If the men and women in white are dealing with crisis in hospitals, the ones in khaki are trying their best to maintain law and order. Pratibha Joshi, Senior Inspector Kothrud Police Station, Pune says, “We are used to tough times though this particular situation is unprecedented. I personally feel that we as police personnel should not panic as it will only stress us further. We have taken utmost care of our colleagues and people with whom we come in contact. To keep ourselves mentally fit, there are a few NGOs like the Lion’s Club, which are making routine visits to police stations supplying homeopathy and ayurvedic medicines that help keep stress levels in check.”

Though Joshi lauded the efforts of the NGOs, she is grateful of the people who have come forward to volunteer in their own areas and educate people about social distancing. “Such gutsy volunteers and even some of our staff have in a way eased a slight portion of burden which curbs the stress,” Joshi adds with a smile.

Being an in-charge of the Police Station, Joshi doesn’t get the luxury of spare time for herself. However, she manages to mediate and relax whenever she can. “My family or any other police officer’s family have also been helpful and managed the houses so we do not worry. They are silent helpers in giving us mental peace,” Joshi concludes.

As a whole, it is most important for all of us to be kind to others. Try and help in whatever way you can as this will make both you as well as the other person feel better. Practice gratitude for what you have and try and maintain a positive outlook.

Pednekar also stressed on the point that the COVID-19 warriors can only feel at home if we treat them with respect and commemorate their efforts. Explaining her point Pednekar said, “For this, the personnel who are on the frontline are being provided healthy home-cooked food, homeopathy medicines that will reduce the stress. The state government, municipal corporation, and renowned individuals have come together to offer the best of hotels and residential arrangements for the warriors. The warriors are also being financially supported with a rise in their stipend so that they can run their houses. Once things get back to normal we will be felicitating the nurses and the frontline warriors who have played a huge role.”

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