For an increasing number of Covid-positive patients undergoing treatment in city hospitals, the disease has brought the added baggage of anxiety and insomnia. Prolonged treatment, loneliness and the social stigma attached to the disease are giving them sleepless nights. The anxiety has aggravated their existing illnesses and mental health conditions, if any, prompting experts to call for an urgent need to include mental health management in the Covid-19 treatment protocol. The city has already seen three suicides among Covid positive patients.
A doctor at Seven Hills Hospital said blood pressure and blood sugar levels in many comorbid patients have shot up. “Many are complaining of sleep deprivation. Patients seek attention by asking doctors to check their symptoms at regular intervals. There is also fear among the healthcare workers, who are being extra cautious in handling patients. This, too, is adding to the patients’ angst,” said the doctor.
Though patients with existing mental health conditions are being attended to via phone calls, a regular mental health check-up would help all patients. “Patients have access to information. They read about Covid-19 deaths going up every day. Many fear death, which is natural. Since many are in isolation wards, they feel lonely,” said another doctor.
Consulting chest physician VA Sajit Babu said symptomatic patients get worked up waiting for test results. “Testing positive itself comes as a shock to patients and their families. Thereafter, getting a bed in a hospital adds to their trauma. Unlike other illnesses where relatives and friends boost a patient’s morale, covid patients have to stay in isolation wards. Many fear being socially boycotted once they are discharged,” he said.
Psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty said, “Besides the fear of the disease, people are worried if their housing societies will accept them or if they will end up infecting their loved ones. The biggest fear is that of death,” he said. He rued the lack of a mental health expert in the state task force. “The battle is not just between life and death. It’s also about giving confidence to those on the frontline,” he said, adding Covid warriors such as doctors and nurses must be debriefed.
Interestingly, Sion Hospital doctors believe the psychiatric morbidity of Covid-19 is not as high as they expected it to be. “Patients who came in the initial stages of the outbreak were more anxious. We have had patients becoming violent at the very mention of Kasturba Hospital. But that’s not the situation anymore,” said Dr Nilesh Shah, adding he saw mental health issues in less than 1% patients. “Patients who are not as aware about the disease are calmer compared to those who have read a lot,” he said.