As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the lives of the people across the globe, it is inducing a considerable degree of fear, anxiety and other psychological complications among sections of people. The pandemic has forced governments to introduce measures such as lockdown, quarantine and changes in routines and livelihood patterns to check spread of the infection, which in turn have contributed to the rise in mental health problems, including depression, alcoholism, substance abuse, self-harm or suicidal behaviour among people. Individuals with underlying health conditions are worst affected. The consequent strain on the healthcare systems due to bourgeoning number of infected cases has made such people even more vulnerable.
It has been experienced that the main psychological impact caused due to the unprecedented crisis is elevated rates of stress or anxiety. There have been reports of suicide in India due to excessive fear of contracting Covid-19 as early as February 12, even before infection became widespread. Suicide was the leading cause for over 350 ‘non-corona virus deaths’ reported in India due to distress triggered by the nationwide lockdown, revealed a new set of data compiled by a group of researchers. They estimate that the number of cases of self-harm is much more than this.
What is self-harm?
Self-harm is when an individual intentionally cause injuries to his/her body or damages mind. It is usually a way of coping with or expressing an overwhelming emotional condition. Sometimes when an individual indulges in self-harm, he/she has strong feeling and intend to end life. More than half of the people who die by suicide have a history of self-harm. But the intention is more often to punish themselves, express their distress, or relieve unbearable tension. Sometimes it is a mixture of all three. Self-harm can also be a cry for help.
There is always a threat of suicide in those who indulge in self-harm. That’s why psychologists say: “One event can bring stress, but it’s not going to make someone suicidal out of the blue.” It is typically a combination of biological, psychological, environmental and other factors which render people vulnerable to suicide.
It is important that each one of us should understand whether such tendencies are there within us or in any of our friends of family members.
There are many ways people can intentionally harm themselves, such as;
- Cutting or burning their skin, punching or hitting themselves,
- Poisoning themselves with tablets or liquids, etc.
- Not eating food for days together, not taking care of their physical hygiene (mental/emotional self-torture)
- People often try to keep self-harm a secret because of shame or fear of discovery
- It is often up to close family members and friends to notice when somebody is self-harming, and to approach the subject with care and understanding. Also, if it is important to know yourself if you are a victim of such a behaviour
Signs of self-harm
If you think a friend or relative is self-harming, look out for any of the following signs:
- Unexplained cuts, bruises, or cigarette burns, usually on their wrists, arms, thighs and chest
- Keeping themselves fully always covered
- Signs of depression, such as low mood, fearfulness, lack of motivation or interest in anything
- Self-loathing and expressing a wish to punish themselves
- Not wanting to go on and wishing to end it all
- Becoming very withdrawn and not speaking to others
- Signs of low self-esteem, such as blaming themselves for any problems or thinking they are not good enough for anything
- Procrastination, repression, denial, projection, displacement etc.
(Note: It is equally important to do a self-check also as all are vulnerable to get anxious, depressed and irritated at this socially isolated situation of lockdown)
Psychological impact of lockdown
Lockdown is having a particularly severe impact on people who have experienced trauma – either recent or historic. Being under lockdown can replicate aspects of the original trauma: feeling trapped, imprisoned or with no escape route. We know that feeling trapped can greatly increase a person’s suicide risk. There can be an overwhelming need to find any possible means of escape from the situation. Death may appear to provide an escape route to someone who is in deep crisis, unable to think clearly, and not able to see other routes in that highly charged emotional state.
The general reasons behind these tendencies:
- Disassociation issues: Lockdown aggravates a sense of alienation in persons with psychological disorders.
- Relationship and family issues: Relationship issues are not necessarily among couples only, but also can be among friends, co-workers, roommates, between the boss and subordinates, neighbours, etc.
- Financial issues: This pandemic has brought unexpected downturn in businesses, employment, etc., and there are many who are struggling to meet their financial commitments.
- Critical illness or loss of life: People with severe health conditions or those who experienced loss of lives of loved ones are vulnerable.
- Youth-related issues: Loss of opportunities for socialising can cause anxiety issues among youth. Also, new routines, workloads, personal and professional issues may cause harmful behavioural issues to self and to others too.
- Eating and sleeping disorders
- Other psychological issues or disorders: It is a very crucial time for those who are already undergoing treatment/therapy for their emotional/psychological/psychiatric issues such as Bipolar, Schizophrenia, other personality disorders. Lockdown restricts timely access to medical assistance in many cases.
Lending a helping hand
Here are some simple things that you can help the self-harmers:
- Ask others how they are feeling
- Do not be judgemental
- Do not make someone feel guilty about the effect it is having on others
- Let the person who have the tendency know that you want to listen to him/her
- When they do discuss it with you, be compassionate and respect what the person is telling you, even though you may not understand or find it difficult to accept what they are doing.
- Do not give ultimatums such as ‘If you don’t stop thinking’, ‘you have to move out’, etc.
- Encourage self and others to identify what gives one happiness and keep them busy productively. It can be to pursue a new or existing hobby, to join some personal development courses (there are many available online).
- Promise yourself/help the one needed to give priority and importance to good diet, proper sleep, normal exercise and maintain a good social relation to friends or family members. These days we are blessed with many technological facilities to stay connected though we are physically far away from each other.
- Self-talk,generally we all do this but only thing to keep in mind is that your self-talk should be positive and never should be self-torment.
- Yoga, music, meditation, gardening, cooking and many more can be tried out as per ones liking to get positively engaged and deviate your mind from unnecessary thoughts.
- You can also visit or if in case of friends/family, take them to healthcare professionals for an intervention, such as: a counsellor or a psychiatrist or a psychologist.
- They can be referred to join a self-help group such as ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ if its due to misusing alcohol, or ‘Narcotics Anonymous’ if due to misusing drugs, Good Samaritan etc. These groups can offer support and try to stop their self-harming behaviours.
- Basically, help yourself/them to come out of self-hatred thoughts.
- If one can realise the self-harming or suicidal tendencies in them, speak to someone you feel comfortable or reach out to professionals for help.