COVID-19 pushes mental health to 'breaking point': UAE experts

A recent study showed that about one in three people develop mental health issues within six months after Covid-19 infection

  
A member of medical staff looks on during drive-thru coronavirus disease testing (COVID-19) at a screening centre in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates March 30, 2020.

A member of medical staff looks on during drive-thru coronavirus disease testing (COVID-19) at a screening centre in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates March 30, 2020.

REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

The pandemic is pushing mental health issues to a breaking point, experts have said. Recent cases of suspected suicide, which police sources said may have been due to pandemic-triggered stress, has prompted experts to increase awareness on mental health.

On May 28, a 42-year-old Asian man, infected with Covid-19, ended his life by jumping from the Al Rawda Bridge in Ajman in front of his wife. During investigations, the victim’s wife told the police that her husband was on the fifth day of his isolation when the incident happened. She added that Covid had caused her husband severe anxiety. “He used to think about death and feared he’d lose his job because of the quarantine period. He was also worried that it would affect his financial situation,” she had said.

Patients who had been infected with Covid-19 were found to be prone to psychological issues, like anxiety and panic attacks, UAE doctors have said. Psychologists and psychiatrists reminded that people must not only look after their physical health but also their mental health.

Dr Arun Kumar, a psychiatrist at Aster Jubilee Medical Complex, Bur Dubai, said specialists are seeing an increase in the number of patients presenting with post-Covid-19 psychological problems.

Noting that Covid-19 affects an individual’s mental health in many ways, he said: “It could be due to the stress related to the disease/isolation; its treatment including hospital/ICU stays; fear of complications and could also be due to the direct effect of the viral infection or its immunological consequence on the brain.”

Earlier studies showed that 20 per cent of patients who recovered from the infection developed neuro-psychological problems in the first three months. However, a recent Lancet Psychiatry publication showed that about one in three people develop issues within six months after Covid-19 infection.

The most common problems are sleeplessness, anxiety, panic attacks and depression, but it has also been found to cause episodes of psychosis and bipolar disorder in vulnerable patients.

Risk of depression is higher among Covid-19 patients, according to recent research. “This could be due to the coronavirus affecting the brain directly or indirectly by inducing a massive cytokine response harming the brain,” it stated.

High rates of post-traumatic stress syndrome are also evident among patients who had recovered from Covid-19 and were discharged from the hospital said another global study.

Dr Yasir Ali Malik, a psychiatrist at NMC Medical Centre, Rolla, said trends in the UAE are almost similar to what is going on in the US, as cited in the landmark Lancet study on the mental health effects of Covid-19.

Covid-19 recovery can be difficult, he said. “It can affect the psychological functioning of the individual by inducing sleep issues, anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and the patient loses motivation. All this can prolong recovery in such patients.”

Dr Kumar agreed that many people suffer from sleep disturbances and concerns about complications, so they remain fearful most of the time. These may also lead to panic attacks, lethargy, decreased motivation, sadness, increased anger, etc.

He noted that some people have difficulty in concentration, brain fog and memory disturbances during the post Covid-19 period. However, others get too worried about their physical health that they repeatedly go for check-ups only to find out that anxiety is causing the symptoms and not a Covid consequence.

Such mental health issues have not been limited to recoveries. In fact, since the onset of the pandemic, the number of patients coming in because of anxiety and mood disorders has been on the rise, said Carolyn Yaffe, psychotherapist at Medcare and Camali Mental Health Clinic.

“General stressors may include social isolation, employment difficulties, loss of a job and income which may possibly result in debt or loss of possessions,” she said. Additional worries, she stated, include fearing family or friends getting infected, death of a loved one, and coping with the after-effects of the illness.

Mental health issues could slow Covid recovery: Doctors

Patients with mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, are taking longer to recover from Covid-19, experts told Khaleej Times.

Dr Balan Vijay Kumar, a psychiatrist with Al Soor Specialist Clinic, Sharjah, said that those with psychological conditions “are more likely to be smoking and abusing alcohol and may have other health issues, like obesity, which could worsen the outcome if they get infected with Covid”.

“From a clinical experience, it is highly likely that mental health issues can make patients more prone to Covid-19 infection, less likely to isolate...less likely to be diagnosed, less likely to take treatment in time and make them more difficult to manage when they are infected,” Dr Kumar said, though he noted that studies are yet to yield scientific data on the matter.

Dr Karuna Anand, a consultant psychiatrist at the Canadian Specialist Hospital, said: “It is theorised that (extended recovery periods could be) due to lack of motivation for treatment or poor adherence to instruction. Also, even after controlling these factors, it was found that depression and anxiety could affect the immune system, making treatment less effective.”

 

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