ISLAMABAD                   -              Psychiatrists on Tuesday warned that although continuous social distancing, self-isolation and quarantining were meant to slow the spread of COVID-19, but there was a risk of people becoming mentally sick since this situation exerts enormous pressure on people’s minds.

Mental health experts talking to PTV news channel said that the social distancing was not easy for many to cope with, but it could be particularly difficult for people already struggling with mental health issues.

Dr Mumtaz Ali, a psychiatrist, said, physical distancing and self-isolation measures, which had been applied to limit the spread of coronavirus, had resulted in an increase the number of people feeling loneliness.

“Humans are social animals,” he said, adding that the prolonged quarantine or social isolation will exacerbate anxiety, depression and a sense of helplessness among people.

“Furthermore, limiting access to normal daily activities, not just going to work, but normal social interactions with others provokes mental health issues and weakens physical health for those who already struggle to maintain good health and well being,” he added.

Another health expert Dr Anayat Hussain said there were lots of online apps that could provided relaxation, mindfulness exercises, supports to address insomnia or guidance in how to re-evaluate anxious thinking.

He said the pandemic was clearly having a major social and psychological impact on the whole population, increasing unemployment, separating families and various other changes in the way that they live that they know were generally major psychological risk factors for anxiety, depression and self-harm.

“People depend on routine for their mental health. This may include things such as going to work, taking the children to school or going to the gym”, he explained.

“When their routine is thrown out and they are forced into isolation with the added threat of becoming seriously ill from the virus there is a real danger that mental health issues set in,” he said.

As with the health-related fears about COVID-19, it’s important to seek accurate information from reliable sources and follow recommendations from trusted experts; in contrast, it’s not helpful to get sucked into reading and rereading every story and rumour that emerges, he suggested.

“People are not feeling comfortable with the home stay. I have heard them complaining that they have been imprisoned at own homes. I will advise such people to utilize this time to bring improvement in their lives and those of others,” he added.

“As a doctor, I have had an increased number of calls from my patients about their mental health. People with existing mental health issues are finding the current situation, particularly difficult and it is important that they speak to a healthcare professional about it,” he mentioned.

“One of the most important things we can do as humans is to get outside in nature,” he said, adding that a lot of times where we get our grounding and feel more connected to the universe. “I’m strongly encouraging people to take walks outside or just go stand outside in the yard and use your five senses,” he said.