Safeguarding jobs, providing the public with clear governmental guidance, and not using the phrase “social distancing” have been marked out as key to avoiding people’s mental health plummeting across the world amid Covid-19, an online discussion by Qatar Foundation’s Doha Debates pointed out.
Coping With The Crisis: Mental Health and Covid-19 – the theme of the latest edition of Doha Debates’ #DearWorldLive series – saw a University of Oxford academic whose work focuses on human well-being warn that, after a period of early resilience, people’s mental state may now be starting to decline with no end to the pandemic
currently in sight.
Dr Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, an economics professor who has won accolades for his contributions to the scientific study of happiness, told the show: “In the first month following the lockdown, people adapted, and we were quite resilient.
“However, the latest data shows we are now at an inflection point where we are muddling through, and there are the first signs of things pointing downward again, partially driven by people being fed up. I think that’s because people are now coming to terms with the idea this is not going to be a V-shaped recovery where we sprint back to the old normal.
“People are fearful about what will happen in the next few months and governments are not being clear on this. This raises uncertainty and psychological instability, and we could see a general decrease in our mental health and well-being without government guidance on what to do, what is right, and what is wrong.”
The #DearWorldLive discussion, moderated by Nelufar Hedayat, also included psychiatrist, writer, filmmaker, and entrepreneur Dr Kamran Ahmed, who specialises in treating mental issues. He told the show he has seen patients “severely anxious about catching the virus”, struggling with losing jobs and businesses, and grieving for loved ones.
“In psychiatry, there is the idea of defence mechanism – unconscious ways of dealing with difficulty – and they include creativity and altruism,” he said. “People can be inclined to help others as a way of helping themselves through this.
Emmy Award-winning writer and speaker Suleika Jaouad, a cancer survivor, told #DearWorldLive: “We need to recognise how the imprints of an experience like a global pandemic will remain long after the crisis is over – there will be a long-term fallout, and we need to give people space and give a language to the very real hardship people are experiencing.
“It’s important to focus on acts we can do beyond our own lives, in the service of others, and take precautions to protect our mental and emotional well-being just as we take precautions in terms of staying at home. The temptation is to focus on physical illness without also focusing on the more holistic impact of this pandemic.”
And Dana al-Ali, a fourth-year medical student at Qatar Foundation partner university Weill Cornell Medicine – Qatar, said: “People should look at this as a time for self-learning and self-growth – although life may seem on pause, it is not
necessarily a pause on yourself.
“We should try to take this time to learn more about ourselves and reflect on what we have seen to become stronger. We call it post-traumatic growth, which is a form of connectedness and togetherness. There are no sides in this pandemic – we are all on the same side, battling the same thing.”
Screenshot of the online discussion by Qatar Foundation’s Doha Debates.