‘Depression during lockdown can lead to decrease in immunity’

Updated April 17, 2020

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Largely empty thoroughfares that used to be bustling before the lockdown can be unsettling.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
Largely empty thoroughfares that used to be bustling before the lockdown can be unsettling.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

KARACHI: The adverse effects of being glued to the television, newspapers and social media under the current lockdown is starting to show in the form of stress, strain and depression in many. But this may compromise the body leading to decrease in immunity to fight the coronavirus, it has emerged.

“I have started trying new recipes and taken up baking,” says Aisha, a university student. “I am also attending online classes but still since I am home all the time, I have a lot of time. The downside of this is that I have gained some weight. Not only am I cooking a lot, I am also eating a lot,” she shares, sounding unhappy.

“I have been sitting at home worrying. I am a homemaker and I used to be home before the lockdown too, but this is different because now I have the children at home also and they are always bored. They can’t even go out with friends or [get] involved in any other activity such as play cricket, go swimming or go to the movies now. And with eating out no more an option, they have to eat whatever is prepared at home, which they tell me they are getting tired of, too,” says Ms Muneer.

“The television and the internet are our windows to the world right now and they also are no help. In fact all they tell us is about the pandemic. It is all so depressing,” she adds.

“My 15-year-old son has started smoking,” says another mother. “My husband discovered his cigarettes going missing. And now that we have confronted him, he says he hasn’t started smoking now. He only has started smoking more because it gives him something to do while being stuck at home. In fact, even my husband has been smoking more than usual these days. The subject has led to plenty of quarrels in our home recently,” she adds candidly.

Expert suggests chalking out a proper schedule to beat the lockdown blues

“I am the eldest son in my family. I have seen or experienced nothing like this. My father works in a bank. We are all home but he is out there every day. What if he catches the virus? What will I do? I am in class seven right now. How will I take care of things?” a young schoolboy shares his worries.

According to leading psychiatrist Prof Dr S. Haroon Ahmed, the lockdown and self-isolation feel like imprisonment to many. “Lockdown means ‘forced internment’ at home to people. It causes stress which continues to rise. And the ‘stress management’ leads to finding more about the coronavirus and what it is doing to the world and more time in front of the TV and other unhealthy habits such as smoking, drinking, overeating, not taking enough sleep, etc. Such continued stress leads to depression,” the psychiatrist explains.

About the lockdown itself, he adds that this is the only way how lockdown is operative all over the world. And it is the job of the government to develop mechanisms to reach the daily-wage earners during the lockdown but it is instead causing confusion. “The slogan ‘Corona se darna nahi, larna hai’ is not appropriate because ‘darna nahi’ means do not worry, and ‘larna’ means that the government is taking care of matters. But out here ‘darna nahi’ is resulting in people going out as they are not afraid. But to change this behaviour one has to feel the threat and emotional arousal that is cognitive appraisal,” he says. “If the threat is not perceived, they will not change and go out without realising the seriousness of the situation,” he says.

“Relax. Talk to yourself and chalk out a programme for the next day, which should include talking to your friends, relatives, and if you are working from home to your colleagues. Read books, listen to music, start writing diaries. This is a period that has not been seen in centuries. Limit your time before the television,” he advises.

His remedy to keep one’s mental state healthy? “First, this period should be considered as a long overdue and deserved holiday. You may use this time to do all those chores and things which you always wanted to do but could not due to many social and needless activities,” he says.

He also points out that the depression may lead to decrease in immunity in the body to fight the virus as one’s system is compromised. “The situation may lead to the body and mind to use a remarkable human function, ‘adaptation’. In this process, catecholamine and other neurotransmitters are released and the body’s resistance is decreased, that is, it hurts immunity,” says Dr Haroon.

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2020