February 2021 was a seemingly good time for India. After having fought a prolonged and draining battle against the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the drop in daily cases from over 97,000 to numbers averaging 10,000 was a glimmer of hope for the country’s citizens and the global community alike. After being touted as ‘an exemplary example’ of success, for a country with the population and resources (or lack thereof) the scale of India, in dealing with the pandemic by the World Health Organization’s Chief, it seemed like the pandemic ‘did not exist anymore’ to most Indians. The days leading up to March saw a relatively steady daily case count, with the number of active cases steadily decreasing. This was when disaster struck. People started to chuck all and any COVID protocols out of the window, started going out, started meeting each other- all under the false notion that the pandemic was gone for good.
It was probably during the same period when I (if I am to adopt a self-centric view and only talk of myself here) started to seriously pack for college. There were friends, and I tying up for our long-awaited ‘landing in March’, with no idea of the storm that was quietly brewing up, fueled not only by people’s abandonment of simple protocols but also by the Government’s claims of having tided over the ‘worst of the pandemic’.
All the thinking about college and listening to seniors’ tales of what happens at college: how it was also like most things, equal parts good and bad, nevertheless something we should all be excited for, brought those tiny adrenaline rushes every single day. To think of it, passing out from school is actually a big deal, for that’s the last of times one will have adults ‘adulting’ for them, while they make a huge hue and cry of even the most trivial of things. Whatever I could gather by pestering my seniors via WhatsApp and Instagram all led to one thing- “college aajao”. I was ready to switch to adulting and to have to bother about invisible tasks, which apparently happened all on their own, stuff like ironing clothes and being responsible for waking up on the 15th alarm in the morning. The change must be stressful, I think, not only because of academic pressure but also owing to increased responsibilities and separation from family, but that was part and parcel of life before 2020, anyway.
I feel like everyone was desperately praying for a return to normalcy, even if it brought along with it offline exams. I was, for sure. I couldn’t wait to taste a little independence and be a little more responsible for myself. Of course, that’s what they tell you about life beyond school, don’t they? If I was to start counting scenarios I had made up in my head, it will be but natural to dub me as some sort of over enthusiastic day dreamer, which is something I won’t deny doing during my classes on Meet.
Little did I know my two suitcases will end up being shifted to the storeroom, fully packed, in the exact condition they were to jettison off to Mohali.
The recent rise in cases, albeit very much expected, has been heartbreaking from all quarters. There is never-ending news of how patients are dying because of lack of oxygen, relatives of those affected running helter-skelter for drugs like Remdesivir and entire households testing positive. The situation is demoralizing, to say the least, and that is for those who are privileged enough to be home with their families. But even for those who are safe (*proceeds to touch wood*), the toll this resurgence has taken is not less. I think perhaps the sudden jolt from almost touching the threshold of normalcy to being pulled back into the days of profound viral spread, illness and lockdowns, has triggered a new wave of mental health issues.
The constant fear of an unpredictable virus looming, the disruption of routine life by measures that had to be enforced to curb the menace, world over, has caused widespread damage to the people’s mental health everywhere. It is now fairly well known that physical well being means nothing if one’s mental health is not in order and that mental health issues can and do manifest as physical symptoms, which furthers the vicious cycle of a person’s all-round health crumbling.
The World Health Organization defines mental health as “A state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” The organization also recognizes that depression is a major issue amongst young adults and that suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15–29 year olds. These statistics themselves must set the stage for laying emphasis on mental health issues that plague the world before this often-ignored epidemic turns into a full-fledged pandemic.
Among college-going students, anxiety disorders are prevalent, closely followed by depression, which occurs in around 12% and 7-9% of college students, respectively. Eating disorders are also common, with body image issues and binge-eating brought about by stress constituting some of those. In ‘normal settings’, these issues would perhaps garner more attention and support from peers than it does in a situation like this. However, now is actually the time to help oneself and those close to oneself, to emerge victorious over the pandemic. The sheer tidal wave of negative news (which isn’t all that false, by the way), reports of essential lifesaving resources running out and the lightening quick and extensive spread of the COVID-19 virus have greatly increased anxiety, hopelessness and frustration among people, young and the old alike.
Factually, the only ways we will overcome this pandemic are by social distancing, following COVID protocols and getting oneself vaccinated. There is no other way under the Sun to get over the pandemic. Denial won’t lead us anywhere, nor will anger, frustration or anxiety, and it is imperative to try and do everything one can to keep themselves sane. This grant of sanity extends to those you know and whose life you have some influence upon.
Until times get better, which they will- they always have gotten better-there are a few things you can do to keep yourself and your friends feeling upbeat and optimistic.
- Consider taking a break from the news and going on a social media detox for a week. If there is something you need to know, you will find out regardless.
- Pick up a hobby or indulge in something you failed to find time for earlier. You could always learn an instrument and have virtual jam sessions with friends, or simply grow your own herb garden!
- Find ways to spend time with your tribe, safely. Maybe go for a Netflix movie run or any of the billion things that have come up during the course of the pandemic.
- Know that your feelings are valid and everyone connects with their feelings in their own ways- some probably pen down poetry, the others could take to art. This doesn’t make anyone’s feelings more justifiable.
- Reach out to your family or friends about how you’ve been feeling. Not the brightest piece of advice, but sometimes even strangers who have no consequence in your life, can listen and offer advice (if you know, you know). Remember, we’re all in this together.
- Know your basic facts about the protocols you need to follow, the steps you need to take to stay healthy- exercise, eat healthy, meditate and about how low the mortality rates are. Too much ‘research’ will only lead to worry.
- Practice gratitude- if you are safe and your loved ones are healthy, you have a lot of blessings to count. Moreover, gratitude for advancements in medical science cannot be undermined; there are vaccines pouring in with each passing day and newer drugs being tested to treat the disease caused by the virus.
- Be kind to yourself and to others. It is okay to feel low, it will get better. The times are tough, but mankind has always overcome hurdles and come out more compassionate and strong.
This article has been written by Sakshi Narwal, Ist year