COVID-19 from the lens of adolescents
Youth Advisory Group member, IDEA project
Note: Youth Advisory Group is comprised of young people aged 10 to 24 years which includes but not limited to young people who are depressed, recovered/ non-depressed and have family/relatives/friends with depression. The group has been helping us to inform on the existing issues faced by young people with possible solutions, direction where the project is taking, interpretation of the results, sensitive and effective approaches to disseminate results to young people, their families and the wider public, and the potential future implementation of our findings in educational, public and health contexts.
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) with its origin in Wuhan, China in late December 2019, was previously reported as a pneumonia of unknown cause. Coronavirus that causes the disease was not initially known, as it did not resemble with other existing six strains of coronavirus infecting human beings, for which it was provisionally named as 2019 novel (new) coronavirus then. It was only on 11 February 2020, when virus got its official name as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and disease as COVID-19. Corona virus causes a range of respiratory symptoms going from the simple ones like dry cough, tiredness and fever to fatal viral pneumonia. One could go for 1 to 14 days without developing a symptom after being infected. About 80 percent of infected people are believed to recover from it without any special medical treatment whereas other cases might get serious and even fatal and need utmost supportive/ intensive care. Older people or ones with other pre-existing medical conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart diseases are more vulnerable to the disease with possibility of reaching severity, which is not to say that the younger generations cannot contract the virus at all. Everyone could be possibly contracting the infectious disease as all of them are equally at risk and it undergoes human to human transmission.
The outbreak of the virus globally since late December, 2019 has left everyone anxious and afraid. It was declared as a matter of Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30th January 2020 but gradually owing to the alarming levels of disease spread and severity, WHO characterized it as a pandemic on 11th March 2020. WHO Director-General said that ” Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly [….] we have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus. And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled, at the same time. [….]This is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector – so every sector and every individual must be involved in the fight.” Although the numerous websites give several news, most of them seem to be spreading fear while WHO has clearly articulated how with joint force, the virus can be contained unlike bubonic Plague and HIV/AIDS whose death trolled millions around the world.
However, the fear among people is seen to be spreading faster than the virus itself. Different people have different perspectives and can interpret and deal with similar situation differently. This is highly influenced by the news the person is getting as well. People are hoarding on supplies even though authorities have assured people there is no need. According to Paul Marsden, a consumer Psychologist at the University of the Arts London, the panic state of people mind can be explained through the psychology of “retail therapy” — where we buy to manage our emotional state. In a world where everything seems chaotic and “out of control”, making sure you have adequate supplies creates an illusion of “being in control”.
The panic zone people have entered, has made them naive and are influenced tremendously by social media and any assumptions it puts forth. So, what can we do to make sure we are not misled? Here, are some questions to ask yourself before you frantically believe in the news put in front of you: What is the source of the information? Have I been misinformed? Am I overreacting? Am I under reacting?
It is very important to make sure the news you are receiving is authentic, as the government of Nepal has started to convict the people who are spreading unnecessary panic and misleading the public; which happens surprisingly more than we would care to admit during times like this. Talking about myths and facts regarding COVID-19, WHO has been updating in its website about these on regular basis to aware people for timely preparation and not delaying in seeking care. Few of the popular myths that come around are: virus gets killed with rise in temperature or through sunlight; garlic/ turmeric/lemon/ hot water prevents infection with virus; spraying alcohol or chlorine all over body kills the virus; older people are mostly affected by virus and so on.
Furthermore, fear and anxiety may lead to social stigma and discrimination. People might feel a need to blame others as they struggle to cope with fears about disease and death. Stigmatization in a context like this is not dangerous just because it triggers racism and xenophobia, but because, most of all it puts everyone at risk. Many people could fake not to have the virus just because of being scared with the labeling as “the one with the Corona virus.” While some people may be worried or have concerns about COVID-19, it is important to not to let fear lead to social stigma towards friends, neighbors or members of the community. It is commendable to treat all people with compassion and speak up if you hear others making statements that cause stigma against people in your community.
The pandemic has not been easy for everyone and the whole world seems to be battling a war which cannot be fought with rifles and bombs but has to be fought with science and technology. What mental health concerns can we expect as we come together to fight this battle? Among the preventive measures of the COVID-19, social distancing, quarantine, avoiding mass social gatherings/events, isolation, regular hand washing, etc. are regarded to be effective. At risk/infected persons are restrained from personal or public contact with other persons. This adversely affects their socialization process by limiting their social mobility, excessive use of internet and technology, etc. Also, the infected persons or those at risk of getting infections with the virus are treated through the process of isolation and quarantine from the normal spaces which can affect the well-being of the persons; resulting loneliness, social distancing, fear of death, etc. This might result in extreme fear and anxiety among their families, relatives and other persons living in the vulnerable places.
As a part of preventive measure against COVID-19, various countries including Nepal have started imposing lockdown and thus, restraining the person’s mobility through shut down of schools, colleges, universities, offices, stores, banks, etc. Unwillingly, the imposed lockdown has led many to suffer directly or indirectly as it has created an economic hardship, unemployment, lack of access to basic amenities, violence from abusers, online sex trade, leisure time that most people may be involved in unhealthy activities like binge-eating, excessive use of technologies, less physical activities, more lazing around than spending the leisure time in productive and creative ways and so on.
Washing hands frequently and maintaining hygiene is one of the most recommended method for safety at the moment. How is it affecting people with obsessive-compulsive disorder? How are people with mental illness dealing among this chaos? What might be the long-term effect of the pandemic? After all when this is over, will we still carry on our ritualistic behavior of washing hands and avoiding human contact? Has this unconsciously embedded our mind? The comfort of being together may be replaced by the greater comfort of being within oneself.
However, the aftermath of the pandemic cannot be all-bad. We think, after everything is being said and done, we will have a new sense of respect and admiration for the doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other supporting staffs in health sector who risked their lives every day for ours. Perhaps, we will give them the stature they have always deserved and look at patriotism as more than just armed battles. There is high possibility that these health personnel’s will go through moral injury and be a victim of PTSD, like a warrior who returned from the battle field. We should all be together to help them overcome these conditions.
Our hyper-individualistic self is likely to question the authority and demand changes especially in the sector of health. The immense pain and suffering will force us to rethink our values and in the long run might help us to unlock the better version of ourselves.
Individual’s reaction over social media during COVID-19 pandemic (Case study prepared by adolescents through interview)
Case study 1 (19 years old Nepali boy; working as a Change Agent, Nepal)
“I guess this (referring to COVID-19) is a confusing disease. There are different definitions about it in the internet. Some of them mention it as a common flu while some mention it to be a dangerous disease. So, such misleading information has confused me about the real fact. Thus, in my view, it is a type of common flu which has resulted in a large number of deaths worldwide. It has been affecting the whole world even though it originated in Wuhan, China. There are many people who died due to this virus and it has also spread around the world in a very short period of time. So, it is a pandemic issue. There is maximum negativity resulting from social media which is broadcasting misleading and invalid information. According to scientists, we have to be aware about our hygiene but there’s huge discrepancy in the information provided by social media. Even though the outbreak seems harmful, it can still be prevented from being worse. Mostly, the negative news from social media is affecting people mentally. Well, today the social media plays a vital role. There are many trolls and memes made around it. I want to say, it is a disease, we don’t have to take it in a funny way. In social media, only the correct and limited information should be passed. There are many rumors spreading around the world through social media. I think exact information should be broadcasted through social media. Positive information should be highlighted rather than negative information. “
“Also, the people infected with the virus should be supported and encouraged. We are affected mentally rather than physically. We can divert our mind to be mentally safe; like we can do internal house works, join online courses as our interest and so on. Firstly, the government needs to well-equip at risk places with thermal scanners and proper health check-up for general population and focus on maintaining sanitation and hygiene in markets like Tarkaari bazar. And, also there should be a campaign for distributing masks for free. The government should also conduct an awareness programs and campaigns in rural parts of Nepal. Initially, the youth needs to be self-aware and follow the preventive measures. Then, the youth should play an important role to aware the people living in village and remote areas than urban areas regarding the prevention and solution of the virus. We have to filter out the right information from the internet and be aware about it. Don’t panic, be safe and share your knowledge in a positive way.”
Case study 2 (30 years old Nepali woman; employed in an office in Japan)
“I think Corona Virus is a type of virus which has affected many countries around the world. It is originated from Wuhan, China in December, 2019. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also declared it as a pandemic. Now, this is trending all over the world and if WHO has declared so, then we must accept that. Definitely, it is affecting every individual’s mental health. People are even afraid when they have simple cough. And, they are afraid to go outside for basic necessities too. In today’s generation, everyone has an access to the internet. There are less people who don’t have mobile phones or who do not use social media. People are spending most of the time in the internet. And, nowadays, lots of things has been updated in social media that be either positive or negative. People are making trolls and memes around the virus. I want to say for social media users, don’t take this issue as a joke and don’t spread out the negative information. I think for mental protection; we can live with our family and spend time with them, we can do house cleaning, we can watch movies and read books, etc.”
“The government has already decided and has been implementing plans for internal/ external mobility restriction, quarantine/ isolation set-up and other important rules for preventing the transmission of virus. At present, it is must for people to be self-aware and stay safe. For this, people should continue washing their hands with soap and water, hygiene maintenance, self-care, avoid crowds as far as possible and so on. Youth can aware people through social media, because social media has now become an important parts of all lives to gain/ share information. I want to say, do self-care, don’t panic, be self-confident to fight against the virus and think positive. And also, don’t take serious about the negative information on social media. At last, be healthy everyone.”
(Note: References can be provided upon request, if needed)