Post-COVID anxiety and depression: You’re not alone

By Sadia Shameem

According to a study sponsored by National Institute of Health research, it was found that nearly 20 percent of COVID-19 patients who “recover” from the deadly disease develop a mental health issue within three months of diagnosis.

These mental health issues can range from mild to severe anxiety and depression. Thus, post-COVID-19, one in every five people, tends to suffer mentally on top of physical complications. Another study conducted in Ecuador has suggested that COVID-19 patients, besides anxiety and depression, also gravitate towards disorders such as insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder within months of recovery.

A well-known aspect in today’s world is the lack of care and empathy that goes towards mental well-being in comparison to the physical well-being of individuals. Coupled with mental ailments that accompany physical losses in COVID-19 patients such as respiratory issues, weakened immune system and stamina, as well as physical manifestations the likes of hair loss, or sustained loss of smell and taste, you will find that the neglect of mental health issues will increase in COVID-19 patients. 

Before we delve into the lack of awareness with respect to mental health issues post-COVID-19, it is important to understand precisely how and why COVID-19 affects one’s mental health.

Firstly, contracting a life-threatening disease that has ravaged the world, altered our past, present and future – possibly forever, it is not something you can come out of, without losing a sane part of you. Stress and anxiety come with just the diagnosis. 

Secondly, the social distancing and isolation that COVID-19 patients that are forced into can have a deep impact on one’s mental health. Most patients find themselves spending weeks alone, even if they recover from the worst 2 to 3 days of extreme symptoms like fever, etc. The 14-day period might seem like a year to some. 

Further, COVID-19 can alter and hinder your normal lifestyle especially if you live an active lifestyle involving sports. Meagre tasks such as climbing the stairs can become extremely taxing. That kind of sudden change can impact your psyche deeply. 

Lastly, neurologists have found that the virus has direct implications on our normal brain functioning resulting in altered mental health, especially concerning stress and anxiety. Hence, from scientific to social causes, it is evident that one of the concerning post-COVID-19 related disabilities centres around mental health, an even greater concern considering the lack of awareness and treatment surrounding it.

Now, why does the mental aspect irrespective of post-COVID-19 recovery go unnoticed by so many? Is it simply because we cannot see, or feel anxiety like a cough or a runny nose or does it concern our society’s general assigning of shame and stigma associated with mental illnesses? I suggest both.

When speaking of the unseen battle of post-COVID recovery, mental illnesses are often sidelined because of the varied physical ailments that COVID patients suffer from, even after months of testing positive. These can range from weaknesses of all sorts to respiratory diseases that linger for a long time. However, besides this obvious reason, we cannot simply rule out the general concern – lacking in attitude of our societies when it comes to mental health. Especially, in the Muslim world, mental illnesses have been stigmatised to a point of categorising them as taboo.

If we are grateful to Allah, we would never feel depressed or develop anxiety. If we pray five times a day, no form of mental illness can touch us. That is a very common notion that we as Muslims have developed around the concerning mental health crisis surrounding us.

However, not denying the spiritual methods of well-being such as Salah prescribed to us by Islam, the Muslim community needs to rise up to shelter those suffering from mental illnesses by understanding that mental health has nothing to do with being ‘non-religious’ or ‘not religious enough’. By assigning judgements to fellow Muslims in light of this mentality, we are pushing them further away from recovery or help.

Mental health issues can arise from various factors, for example COVID. As explained above, the fatal coronavirus triggers mental illnesses hence, the oversimplifying attitude towards medical conditions like anxiety and depression is damaging to the individuals suffering from these ailments.

While acknowledging that mental health issues may be a part of trials from Allah, it does not mean that you are at fault, or you deserve punishment this way. Islam tells us that trials and tribulations are a sign that Allah has intended good for us, by expiating our sins and giving us an opportunity to get closer to him. By labelling people struggling with ‘mental health’ as ‘ungrateful’ or ‘non-religious’, we are committing a grave sin. 

To conclude, it is our responsibility to ensure that proper care is given to the mental health aspect of COVID survivors, not just as responsible human beings but as Muslims. Extend a helping hand towards your brothers and sisters during these troubled times. Extend support for your students, struggling with assignments and exams while battling the deadly coronavirus. Check up on those who have recently contracted the virus. But most of all, we need to ensure that all COVID-19 patients are encouraged and given access to mental health professionals. Only a professional mental health expert, such as a counsellor or a therapist, can provide proper care and comfort to those struggling with mental illnesses.

To my fellow brothers and sisters, you are not alone. You are not at fault for feeling tired. To come out of a pandemic and find that nothing has changed is hard. To accept that things might stay this way for some more time is depressing.

You are not alone. Reach out to a friend or a family member and seek a professional advice. And lastly, remember that Allah is always near. He is the provider of comfort, he is all seer, all merciful. The Quran says, “If Allah helps you, none can overcome you; and if He forsakes you, who is there after Him that can help you? (Qur’an, 3:160)***

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