A man lifts weight outside his home in Petamburan, Central Jakarta, on April 10. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

Experts Worried by Pandemic's Strains on Mental Health

BY :TARA MARCHELIN

MAY 01, 2020

Jakarta. Have you been anxious, confused or scared lately? Do you feel like your heart beats faster than usual? Have you suddenly developed digestive problems? Don't worry. Those are all normal reactions to a crisis, mental health practitioners say. 

"The pandemic affects not only your physical health but also your mental health. People can start feeling anxious, stressed, confused, scared and angry. Those are normal emotions during a crisis, including this coronavirus pandemic," Lahargo Kembaren, a psychiatrist and member of the Indonesian Psychiatrists Association (PDSKJI), said on Friday.

Lahargo said faced with a crisis, the brain will release cortisol hormone that causes stress to the body.

Fear, he said, causes the heart to beat faster, tense muscles, headaches, indigestion and breathing problems.

To reduce stress, he suggested people should limit their consumption of coronavirus-related news. 

"Reading and watching too much news about Covid-19 can cause anxiety, especially if we don't know if the information we consume is valid or not. Taking a break from the news is good for your mental health," Lahargo said in an online press conference.

Maintaining social interaction by talking to families and friends on the phone or using video calls can also help release stress, the psychiatrist said.

It's also important to eat nutritious food, get enough sleep and exercise regularly to maintain one's mental health, he said. 

"Don't smoke, don't drink alcohol and don't do drugs. They won't make you feel any better. Taking deep breaths do," he added.

Lahargo said PDSKJI now has a psychological self-check questionnaire that can be accessed on the association's website.

The questionnaire can help identify if someone has depression, anxiety or psychological trauma caused by the pandemic.

"As of Friday, a total of 1,522 people have done the questionnaire. According to our assessment, 64.3 percent of them have depression and anxiety and 80 percent show symptoms of psychological trauma caused by unpleasant experiences related to the pandemic," Lahargo said.

The association offers psychological assistance through its Instagram account, @PDSKJI_Indonesia, and free consultation through the Health Ministry's Sehatpedia app.

Lahargo said more than 1,000 psychiatrists across the country are ready to provide psychological and psychosocial assistance for anyone who needs it.

"Mental health is as important as physical health. Don't hesitate to seek professional help when you need it," he added.

Fighting Stigma

The Health Ministry meanwhile has also established the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (DKJPS) crisis center to provide psychosocial and mental health assistance during the pandemic.

The crisis center is a collaboration between the Health Ministry, World Health Organization, Indonesian Psychiatrist Association (PDSKJI), Mental Health Nurses Association (IPKJI), Indonesian Psychology Association (HIMPSI), Indonesian Clinical Psychologists (IPK Indonesia), Professional Social Workers Association, Indonesian Epidemiologists Association and public health experts.

"In this pandemic, people suffer not just from the infection or the virus. Patients or medical workers often also have to deal with the stigma of the disease," the ministry's Mental Health and Drug Prevention and Controlling Director, Fidiansjah, said.

He said the stigma against Covid-19 patients and medical workers will marginalize them and have a negative effect on their health. 

"All of us have to combat this stigma. Knowledge is key, we need to get the right information about the pandemic. The media plays a big role in this," he said.

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