The unfolding, devastating COVID-19 pandemic has caused countries around the world, to institute lockdowns of about 3 weeks in an effort to halt or delay the spread of infection. But these lockdowns or quarantines have undesired results. This article looks at such lockdown / quarantine problems.
The Public Health measures of lockdown and quarantine have proved beneficial to varying degrees across the globe. In Wuhan province China where the disease broke out in December 2019, very strict and protracted restrictions were put in place and enforced. The result was that new coronavirus infections fizzled out to the point of zero per day towards the end of last month (February 2020).
South Africa, which recorded the highest number of proven COVID-19 cases in Africa, instituted a 3-week National Lockdown on the night of Thursday 26th March, 2020. New daily COVID-19 cases which were numbering in excess of 200 in the days running up to the lockdown, declined sharply over the weekend until yesterday, 30th March.
So, lockdowns or quarantine laws are definitely going to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 globally. This will save millions of lives, reduce suffering and protect the global economy.
SO WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?
The downside is that there are many adverse health effects associated with lockdowns / quarantines. And many regions and countries are already reporting some.
The aim of this two-part article is to explore, from a Family Practice point of view, some of the commonest health problems that can arise as a result of people staying at home under lockdown conditions. The aim is also to offer appropriate advice so as to prevent their occurrence, or to advise on what to do should the problems ensue.
In this first part of the discussion, we will deal with the
- Psychological / Mental health and
- Social / Family health problems.
Though lockdown is an extraordinary situation, many of the conditions here can be expected. Why? Because people experience them to varying degrees when
- they retire,
- during job lay-offs,
- when they are on annual leave,
- or even on (long) weekends.
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PSYCHOLOGICAL AND PSYCHIATRIC ILL EFFECTS
* Depression (“the blues”) *
This is very common and unfortunately, under-recognised. It results mostly from breaking with the daily routines, routines that for some people could have been going on for decades. It can also result from the idle state, as old and suppressed painful experiences may spring up (this is common in Pensioners and in-between jobs or educational institutions).
The effects of depression on individuals, families, communities, nations and the global population are catastrophic. That is why depression is one of the top priorities of The World Bank and the World Health Organisation (WHO). The damage to the economy, caused by any ongoing infectious disease, is compounded.
Therefore, prevention of depression is a Sustainable Development Goal. And if depression sets in, it is important to recognise it early and take corrective action.
Depression will be dealt with in detail in another post on this website. But it needs to be mentioned that (1) COVID-19 related suicides are unfortunately already being reported in various countries, and (2) hobbies including EXERCISE (see next article) are very good and scientifically proven in preventing and treating depression and anxiety (below).
* Anxiety *
This is a very common condition that is also on the rise because of the stresses of modern life.
Obviously, lockdown for any reason in itself causes an abnormal situation that causes people to lose their equilibrium, leading to anxiety.
Currently, the world is faced with a pandemic, more-so one caused by a new, highly contagious and deadly virus, COVID-19. And it comes on top of a still raging HIV pandemic. This causes anxiety even in people with the strongest mental resources.
Relaxation techniques including
- breathing exercises,
- stretches and
are helpful for prevention and treatment of anxiety. Television and videos, though useful in keeping people’s minds occupied, can cause anxiety if overused, by a variety of mechanisms.
* Claustrophobia *
This is an irrational fear of closed spaces. It is overwhelming and disabling. Obviously sufferers face difficulties under lockdown conditions.
Authorities can be approached to help and advise in such cases. Resources are also provided in the links above, and Reference 2 below – don’t suffer in silence please!
SOCIAL & FAMILY EFFECTS
Lockdown separates people from family and loved ones, colleagues and associates.
But it also brings together couples that probably rarely spend time together because of long work hours. Suddenly people discover their incompatibilities. Conflicts ensue or escalate, especially among young couples.
Some parts of the world which went into quarantine in the past months, are already experiencing an explosion in divorce rates. Gender based violence (GBV) has reached epidemic proportions in many parts of the world.
It is important for families in countries under Lockdown, to keep contact with weak, sick and vulnerable relatives. These include the elderly, children especially orphaned ones, people living with disabilities, drug and alcohol abusers, and known or suspected victims of domestic abuse (there is no escape for many of these groups of people under Lockdown conditions).
Lockdowns or quarantines are used to deal with disease outbreaks. Different generations inhabiting the world as of now, know them to differing degrees. Currently in 2020, these Public Health measures have been brought to the forefront by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We have touched on some of the psychosocial adverse effects of lockdowns or quarantine measures. In the next article (which can be found here), we will deal with the physical health problems.
Some useful resources are referenced for the reader’s convenience below.
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