COVID-19 survivors in Bengal socially isolated by kin, neighbours; slip into deep depression
Kolkata, Jun 28: Most of the people recovering from COVID-19 in West Bengal are suffering from depression after being socially isolated by family members, relatives and neighbours, said a senior doctor at a state-run hospital in Kolkata on Sunday.
Sanjib Bandyopadhyay, in-charge of the post-COVID follow-up clinic at ID and BG Hospital in Beliaghata area, said the residences of some of the recovered patients were marked 'Corona flat' or 'Corona House' by neighbours to warn people to keep out.
Dr Bandyopadhyay said some people, including police officers, had to return to their home towns after their neighbours did not allow them to enter their residences in Kolkata. Even pathologists have refused to collect blood samples or conduct any clinical examination of family members of several recovered persons, he said.
No doubt the pandemic has aggravated the mental health issues in many people, who are forced to remain indoors socially isolated amid the uncertainties of the times. Experts say nervousness, fear of contamination, constant reassurance-seeking behaviour, sleep disturbance, feelings of helplessness and possibility of an economic slowdown are the major factors leading to depression and anxiety among people.
A recent study by the Assam government has found COVID-19 patients in the state too are facing mental health problems over issues such as job loss, financial distress and social stigma, and needed counselling. Of the people surveyed for the study, 97 per cent had their sleeping pattern disturbed and 12 per cent felt anxiety, fear and panic. At least 7 per cent were stressed because of the stigma attached to the coronavirus disease.
"Almost 100 per cent of the people who have recovered from COVID-19 are suffering from depression after being totally left out by neighbours and relatives," Dr Bandyopadhyay told PTI. "Physically they are experiencing weakness, fatigue and loss of appetite but almost all of them said they felt detached from the society as their neighbours have stopped interacting with them. This type of stigmatisation is running deep under their skin," he said.
The follow-up clinic at ID and BG Hospital has been running for nearly a month to provide a proper counselling to recovered patients to stabilise them. People recovering from COVID-19 are also being treated for diabetes, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and hypertension.
"So far around 60 recovered people have consulted us and all of them have shared similar experiences of being socially isolated. Even though they have recovered, society is not ready to accept them. This has led to deep psychological stress in them," Dr Bandyopadhyay said. "Some patients are so depressed that we are prescribing several rounds of counselling for them," he said.
Criticising the trend of garlanding people and giving them sweets on their discharge from hospitals, the doctor said such ways of "welcoming back" is creating a sense of social isolation.
According to an illustrated guide issued by the Union Health Ministry, rumours and misinformation can create more stress and "hamper COVID-19 recovery". Also, it says, stigmatisation and discrimination can cause people to conceal symptoms and hesitate in seeking medical attention.
People recovering from COVID-19 might also experience emotional isolation, guilt and anxiety and lack of self-esteem. The guide says patients and their families need support and cooperation and those who have recovered need to be treated as "winners". Recovered persons do not have the virus in them anymore and there is no risk of transmission, the guide says.