BY SALONEE MISTRY
Diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder last year, Vaishnavi Krishnamoorthy was unable to attend regular counselling sessions as services shut down due to the pandemic.
“Coming out of the lockdown is going to be like pressing the reset button,” Ms Krishnamoorthy said.
“I kind of have to begin my journey of being comfortable in the social world all over again, because the last few months I got comfortable with not meeting people," she said.
Sudden mood swings and intense emotions, sometimes leading to physical aggression, have been part of the 20-year-old Monash law student's life since she moved to Melbourne from India, two years ago.
“After being at home for so many months now it's like I have to begin my journey of being comfortable in the social world all over again,” Ms Krishnamoorthy said.
She shares fears of re-integrating into society post the pandemic with Maddy Foster*, who is also 20 years old and is studying psychology at Monash University.
Ms Foster has anxiety, which has manifested into diagnosed OCD and hypochondria, making the pandemic exceptionally difficult for her to cope with.
She has lived with this condition for almost seven years and her biggest concern about life post-pandemic is settling back into her routine.
“Having hypochondria, I have definitely felt a lot more anxious during these unprecedented times,” Ms Foster said.
“I had to move back (home) because of border restrictions but now I am looking forward to heading back to Victoria," she said.
“It’s going to be strange getting used to my routine again and not being surrounded with the extra support of my friends and family."
Ms Foster’s hypochondria, for which she is currently under medication, revolves around a fear of suffering from cancer.
The condition causes her to believe she is suffering from all types of cancer, increasing her anxiety during a global health crisis.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, during a UN policy brief on COVID-19, highlighted the need for international communities to protect the mental health pressures arising from the pandemic.
“Decades of neglect and underinvestment in addressing people’s mental health needs have been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” a report by the UN stated.
The UN guidelines have pointed out depression and anxiety to have cost the global economy more than $1 trillion per year, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Depression affects 264 million people in the world, while around half of all mental health conditions start by age 14, with suicide the second leading cause of death in young people aged 15 to 29,” the UN chief said, during a video message.
However, like two sides of the same coin, the pandemic improved some aspects and worsened others for Ayesha Shah*.
“The first few weeks of the pandemic had been the hardest for me as not seeing people, even strangers on the train, was overwhelming,” Ms Shah said.
“Routine helped keep my anxiety at bay, but during the pandemic this was taken away, as I was stuck at home staring out of a window," she said.
“To go back to life post lockdown will certainly be difficult, possibly increase my anxiety even."
The isolation period has been difficult for everyone for different reasons, Ms Shah said.
“I think post pandemic, the world will contain more people who are depressed and socially anxious as people could have become complacent and comfortable in being alone."
Dr Taylor said data suggests we are already seeing increases in negative mental health outcomes, including anxiety and suicidality, associated with the outbreak.
“Social isolation is a big contributor to mental ill-health, even in times when social distancing laws aren’t in force and so the effects of isolation during the pandemic are likely to be significant,” Dr Taylor said.
“I can’t stress enough how important it is for people to seek help for themselves, and offer help to their loved ones,” she said.
However, she also feels the impacts of COVID-19 on mental health are not all bad.
“The outbreak has acted as a catalyst for the rapid uptake of telehealth by both service providers and consumers, carers and families,” Dr Taylor said.
“We’ve also seen a lot of innovations in service delivery which has had to adapt to a new environment and the determination of the workforce in the face of adversity.
“So while COVID-19 presents many challenges for our mental health, it might also teach us some important lessons about how we can best support each through hard times."
*Pseudonyms have been used at interviewees's request, to protect their privacy.