Anyone able to communicate, is distressed, says the head of Psychiatry at AIIMS

Covid patients admitted to the Covid and emergency wings of PGIMER are screened for mental distress by the residents from the psychiatry department
AIIMS| Representative Image
AIIMS| Representative Image

It was during the first lockdown last year that Delhi-based Rasika Bhardwaj (name changed) got in touch with the Psychiatry Department at AIIMS through their telemedicine services. She just could not stay still. The fear that everything was falling apart consumed her.

"Leave alone concentrating on work, even bathing seemed like an impossible chore. Maybe the lockdown was a precipitating factor, but it definitely forced me to come to the conclusion that I needed expert help. The doctor helped me immensely. But seeing the situation around during this second wave makes me fearful. The anxiety is back. So, I am in constant touch with him again," says this freelance graphic designer.

Prof. R.K. Chadda, head of the Psychiatry Department at AIIMS in New Delhi tells IANS, "Anyone, who is able to communicate, is distressed... Right now, we are attending to about 200 patients through the department's tele-medicine service. Our National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre and its three community outreach clinics and mobile methadone clinic are catering to more than 600 patients daily and providing maintenance treatment to the patients with addiction problems."

For Rohtak-based Dr. Sumeet Nag, MD (Internal Medicine), the never ending duty at the Covid centre in his city has started taking its toll. He says apart from the physical exhaustion, it is stress that started overpowering him a week back. "It's quite easy to say that we are trained to handle the high-pressure situations, sight of death and long-working hours without a break. It is also very convenient to forget the fact that we are human. Precisely why I decided to approach a mental health professional."

In fact Prof. Sandeep Grover from the Department of Psychiatry at PGIMER (Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research) in Chandigarh, which gets patients from across the Northern part of the country points that there has been a 30 per cent increase as compared to 2019 in the number of doctors and health-care workers from all across approaching the Psychiatry department. "And Covid is one of the factors."

Covid patients admitted to the Covid and emergency wings of PGIMER are screened for mental distress by the residents from the psychiatry department. "The Residents then evaluate and discuss cases with the faculty, and care is provided to whoever needs it."

While pointing out that during the second wave, it is mostly patients, not able to get beds who are the ones complaining of severe anxiety, stress and depressive symptoms, Dr. Chadda says that his department is getting calls from people across age groups and genders. "COVID patients at home must do some stress busting activities including deep breathing, listening to light music, reading and keeping in touch with friends through the phone etc. Patients with Covid having mental health issues don't come to Psychiatry directly. Most patients have anxiety or stress related symptoms, but only a few, those with severe ones, are referred to us."

Avinash Gupta (name changed) from Bathinda in Punjab, a psychiatry patient at PGIMER for the past eight years says that his anxiety and depression issues have worsened during the second phase. "The general feeling of hopelessness seldom leaves me nowadays. A close cousin died of Covid related complications recently. Though I am in touch with the department through tele-psychiatry, I am definitely missing meeting the doctor in person and sharing with him."

Adding that those suffering from Covid are complaining of anxiety, distress and sleep issues, Dr. Grover says, "Social isolation and loneliness are the common issues we encounter. In case they have established psychiatric illness, they will need longer care."

Pointing that the number of people getting in touch through the tele-psychiatry facility is much lower than those attending the OPD before the pandemic stuck, Dr. Grover says, "Sadly, what is happening right now is that people are just rushing to hospitals after testing positive for Covid-19. They fear that they would require hospitalisation --'will I get a bed, ventilator etc... Now, this thought cycle triggers a lot of anxiety. This is putting pressure on hospitals for admissions. Don't panic. remember, if you panic, your oximeter is bound to show lower readings -- and this will again increase panic. Break this cycle. Don't think of the outcome in the long term. It is important to know if anxiety is contributing to the lower oxygen level."

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