Just a few weeks ago, a friend put up a video on his WhatsApp story, people were wailing in the background, someone they loved had just passed from coronavirus. The local department of health had come to pick up the corpse. No farewell, no burial, no proper send-off, not even hugs; this is the reality of the highly uncertain times we now live in. So many people have had to bid their loved ones final goodbyes over Facetime or phone calls because of the stringent rules at isolation centers that forbid the physical presence of uninfected kin and friends; nothing prepares you for situations like these.
The coronavirus pandemic is nothing like any of us have experienced before, this novel virus has robbed us of a lot of things – our freedom, economic stability, health, financial security, jobs, peace and more importantly for some of us – our loved ones.
Social distancing, quarantine, and isolation are public health actions that have hampered traditions and processes people typically rely on to make their grieving process easier. All these have been yanked away and replaced by loneliness and feelings of anxiety and stress.
The big question is what do we do with all this grief?
Grieving is a natural human reaction to a painful loss such as the passing of a loved one, there is evidence to suggest that the sudden passing of the ones we love such as losses associated with COVID19 can even be more detrimental as most people cannot cognitively wrap their heads around it thus leaving them in a state of mental limbo.
While it is unrealistic to set a timeline to mourn and grieve the loss of a loved one, grief that goes on for too long when left unattended to can persist indefinitely and have long term consequences on the emotional and mental health of anyone involved. Sadness, numbness, disbelief, anger, insomnia are some of the common reactions you may experience while grieving.
What else is to be expected?
The American Psychiatric Association defines depression as ‘a common and serious illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act’.
Recent data from around the world have shown a significant rise in anxiety and depression in many people; this has been linked to isolation from friends and families, job losses, uncertainty about the future, increasing fear of loved ones, or even them contracting the virus and falling ill. These changes may have a notable effect on people already living with depression and heighten mental health struggles on the vulnerable.
Depression can be a consequence of living through this pandemic but it is treatable and you are not alone.
Prolonged Grief Disorder
Prolonged Grief Disorder, also known as complicated grief is defined as grief that lasts for more than six months and interferes with your normal functioning. It is distinctively different from depression and characterized by a distressing and inescapable yearning for the deceased, accompanied by anger, guilt, and other symptoms indicative of intense emotional pain. According to the New England Journal of Medicine (Vol. 372, No. 2, 2015), without treatment prolonged grief increases the risk of substance use, sleep disorders, impaired immune functioning, and suicidal thinking.
Prolonged grief is expected to increase post-COVID 19 deaths as its symptoms are usually on the rise when the death that caused it is unexpected and happens with no chance to observe traditional grief rituals e.g viewing and burial of body (Castle and Phillips, 2003).
COVID19 is taking away the lives of people who otherwise wouldn’t have died and one of the expected effects is survivor’s guilt.
Survivor’s guilt is a type of self-guilt that occurs after a traumatic event; it occurs when someone feels like they have done something wrong by surviving a life-threatening situation while other people did not. In some situations, it is legitimate e.g causing an accident that led to someone’s death, other times, it is not, as nothing could have been done to alter the outcome of the situation.
Anyone experiencing certain symptoms like flashbacks, jumpiness, or nightmares for longer than a month might need to see a doctor and get evaluated for a trauma-related condition like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD).
It Is Okay To Not Be Okay.
The pain of losing a loved one is real and everyone affected needs to understand that they will benefit greatly from seeking help from a licensed mental health specialist or psychologist. For so many people living in Nigeria, we parade ourselves as being highly resilient and thus therapy is unheard of and often referred to as part of western culture but the consequences of bottling things up are never positive. A trained specialist helps articulate your emotions and challenge the irrational thoughts you might have. They are experts at recognizing the uniqueness of different individuals and have tailored strategies that help you better handle fear, anxiety, and guilt.
Their have treatment plans are evidence-based and can help you overcome sadness and depression.
What Can You Do?
Wear a facemask
Studies show that masks reduce the risk of inhaling spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth, they serve as a barrier against respiratory droplets A mask offers you some sort of protection especially if you are in a room with an infected person.
Wearing one however should not replace social distancing and regular washing and disinfecting hands.
Otegbayo Ayomide writes from Abuja, Nigeria.