Covid cases at Mumbai’s Lilavati Hospital, where he is a senior pulmonologist, he thought he knew “the a-b-c-d of the virus”. So if he ever felt the symptoms himself, he told himself, his plan of action would kick in effortlessly, one that he had Of all the unknowns that accompany SARS-Cov-2, the least discussed is what it does to the human mind. Long Covid — complications for those who have recovered from the infection — is now becoming a larger burden than actively infected cases.
In India, there are 4.89 lakh active Covid cases, 8 million of whom have recovered. Doctors say many of them have been returning with complaints of fatigue, headaches, insomnia, shortness of breath, body pain, lack of appetite, sore throat and diarrhoea. Add to that, mental health issues. There is now increasing evidence that Covid-19 can lead to anxiety, depression, psychosis, insomnia and memory fogs.
A Lancet Psychiatry study published last week found that 18.1% Covid patients had a psychiatric problem within 14 to 90 days of infection. Doctors and experts say the unpredictability of the virus is what is adding a mental dimension to the disease. Add to that the isolation that patients go through, and the fact that measures to check the spread of the virus have had economic ramifications.
Dr Shubhangi Parkar, former head of KEM’s Psychiatry Department, says she has been seeing Covid patients with the stress of job loss or insecurity at work. “Those already in financial distress find the stress hard to deal with,” she says, adding “lack of socialisation and forced isolation have increased the sense of loneliness”.