COVID-19 outbreak sets new challenges to psycho-social issues

05 Aug 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is preparing us to adapt to a diverse way of living with positives and major negatives that directly or indirectly affect our mental states

Opinion: Sagari Sahu and Prabir Kr Ghosh 

A recent study of the impacts of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Odisha and Uttar Pradesh was conducted by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER).

It offered valuable insights on the social economic and health impacts faced by households that consisted of adults who suffered from chronic breathlessness children who had acute respiratory conditions and women with gynaecological problems.

A survey was carried out in four districts in Odisha (Bargarh Dhenkanal) and UP (Chandauli and Firozabad) June 9-18 2020 the second week after the lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19 was lifted.

The sample included 2068 households that were a part of the larger NCAER-Nossal study on Health Seeking Behaviour in Four Indian States. Samples included both urban and rural residents from these districts.

Around 27 per cent and 30 per cent of the households in Odisha and UP respectively had no income during the lockdown according to the study. Urban households (43 per cent) reported more loss of income compared to their rural counterparts (24 per cent).

There was a severe impact for households that relied on casual labour or non-agricultural self-employment as their main source of income during the lockdown in UP. In Odisha the impact was felt primarily by households whose members were engaged in casual labour.

The survey also found a large majority of households — 81 per cent in Odisha and 77 per cent in UP — reported some reduction in income. In contrast 95 per cent households interviewed supported the Union government’s lockdown strategy.

Results from the study showed the impact of the lockdown to be above and beyond economic impacts. It was instead an assortment of additional societal and psychological elements.

A unique feature of the study was it tried to measure the conditions of families before and after the lockdown to understand the disruption in the social economic and health status of the respondents.

We have all observed minor behavioural vicissitudes with major after-effects on our thoughts during this stretch. While buying necessities from the market for example someone at a shop may have obtrusively encouraged you to keep distance implying you could be the bearer of the infection. You hand over your card to pay for your purchases and the shopkeeper asks you to enter the PIN by using a toothpick.

Such changes do leave some sort of impression on our minds including simply walking on the streets looking at each other’s masked faces something that brings a sense of threat that the other person could be a carrier of the virus.

These are a few instances most of us can relate to in this world of the ‘new normal’. The lockdown intensified the number of those who became frustrated and depressed. There is an upsurge in social issues including psychological disorders domestic violence suicides etc. Children are getting depressed as well.

Depression affects 264 million people around the world due to no contact with their peer groups and minimal physical activities according to a May 14 United Nations report.

This pandemic is preparing us to adapt to a diverse way of living with positives and major negatives that directly or indirectly affect our mental states. These include a risk of depression and anxiety sense of detachment loneliness fear of losing our loved ones and stressing about our futures.

Interesting results were found by the NCAER survey over this: Of all responses about 95 per cent households were afraid of being infected and worried about becoming disengaged from others.

This showed how stressed an individual can become from fewer social interactions. Though online media plays an important role in keeping social connect the absence of opportunities for physical gatherings to a large extent causes depression in a certain set of people in society.

Stress is always a result of external repercussions and is presently coming from all directions. India has a rich culture of living in a close-knitted environment. It thus gets difficult for masses to acclimatise to this kind of ethos where they are constrained to meet people.

Nobody is deprived of such adverse bearings. Pecuniary effects are prominent all over but what about psycho-social impacts?

Social-distancing and its necessary norms set a certain number of challenges within family and other people. Around 86 per cent households fear losing their lives with almost 79 per cent respondents saying they were stressed due to being isolated something that can be a chief cause of escalation in cases of anxiety and depression.

Dealing with such hard-hitting conditions it’s our human tendency to hunt for a support system care and reliability from others especially in rural India with its amalgamation of care and support from neighbours who are treated as family adherents.

This statement is well supported by the outcomes initiated in the study. During the lockdown 81 per cent of households in Odisha were concerned about the well-being of their neighbours while this was only 41 per cent in UP.

On the other hand these figures were 77 per cent for Odisha and 29 per cent for UP before the lockdown. Another major factor that came up strongly through this study was reliability on others around them.

It was found that around 84 per cent of the respondents (Odisha at 97 per cent UP at 72 per cent) could rely on at least one person for support while 81 per cent of the respondents were open to support others (Odisha at 90 per cent UP at 72 per cent).

In both circumstances Odisha seems to be more socially connected and supportive to the society at large. This indicates an inner sense of fear accumulated over months of lockdown that has affected the lives and livelihoods.

This season of insecurity has worried the populace economically socially and psychologically. The pandemic is going to influence the economy as no other time has prompting enormous psycho-social effects to us with its effect noticeable in all-inclusive areas.

Its impact on underestimated segments however primarily women and children was huge in India and globally. COVID-19 has changed the world from numerous points of view: Few ramifications on mankind have left a blemish on the lives of every individual.

The issues of well-being decline of the labour-intensive economy scarcity of drugs sanitisers destitution and joblessness has without a doubt become the overwhelming focus of each and every one.

The infection may disappear (ideally) sometime yet the effect of this doubt will pose a potential threat to social relations. Major metropolitan cities in India still struggle to contain the virus. The only feasible way of defeating the pandemic is containing and eradicating it for our survival.

There is an urgency to build a system of ‘living cooperation’ to overcome the increasing dread of social-distancing and isolation. Any human investment (or investments in human values) in these social relations will certainly change or minimise the state of socio-psychological insecurity that has entered social life today.

Views expressed are the authors’ own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth.

Published in: DownToEarth, August 5, 2020