- The coronavirus pandemic has infected over 4000 people in Kazakhstan with 30 confirmed deaths.
- 2.6 billion people worldwide are under restricted movement order.
- We will pay the price through a secondary epidemic of burnout and stress-related absenteeism in the latter half of 2020.
The state of emergency, announced on March 16, has forced hundreds of thousands of Kazakhstani to physically isolate themselves. Many people believe that during the quarantine period the situation has gotten worse in terms of economy, education, and health. Governments worldwide have entered an unprecedented economic crisis which is due to stagnation in the social and personal lives of people.
In the new article by World Economic Forum, people around the world are facing increasing mental health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. The lockdown has indirectly put people at risk of getting abuse, employees facing job uncertainty and individuals become neurotic due to isolation.
The COVID-19 primarily affects the physical well-being by causing life-threatening complications such as pneumonia, sepsis, or lung failure. In Kazakhstan, several deaths were reported due to existing chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart problems. Moreover, measures that were taken to slow the spread of the virus, such as social distancing, business and schools closure and movement control orders, – all led to poor mental health outcomes, in particular, regarding isolation and job loss.
Isolation leads to Mental Health Risks
From another perspective, Joshua Morganstein, chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Committee on Psychiatric Dimensions of Disasters shared that “Right now, people are feeling grief over the loss of routines, certainty, and a perception of themselves as being generally healthy and protected”.
In order to help slow the spread of coronavirus, every city in Kazakhstan has closed schools (7,414), affecting 2.5 million pupils, and, subsequently, their parents or guardians. With long-term closures of kindergartens and schools, many parents are experiencing ongoing disruption to their daily routines.
According to the Alvin Market, the research center in Kazakhstan, the unemployment rate due to the job retrenchment may increase by 14.7% (1.4M people in Kazakhstan). By the end of March 2020, 442.6k people are unemployed. Research shows that job loss is associated with increased depression, anxiety, distress, and low self-esteem and may lead to higher rates of substance use disorder and suicide.
To complement the data, we did another survey among Kazakhstani young adults on how social isolation is affecting them. The COVID-19 pandemic affected 37% of our respondents as they are facing depression and discomfort feeling that every day is like “Groundhog Day”.
Change of business culture
In another survey by HiPo “The impact of COVID-19 on Employment and Labor”, 42% of those, who got impacted, don’t have any savings. In order to help slow the spread of the virus, many workplaces have to pause, move to the work from home (WFH) system, or even shut down their operations. Certain industries have been hit harder than others, such as wholesale and retail trade, education in Kazakhstan. Moreover, from our survey, 34% of those, who feel depressed, are currently not working or have lost their jobs.
Additionally, more than half of young adults who WFH full-time/part-time, reported that they are overworking. Working hours have spiked since the onset of the crisis. This means that during such a difficult time, you could easily end up working longer hours and overworking. The situation can feel even trickier for parents who are currently at home with their children, given that they are likelier to be working in the evening to catch up.
The potential cause of having stress and anxiety per the survey is the disturbance of body clock. Nearly 20% of people, who are experiencing stress due to job retrenchment, loss of routine, or depleted savings, have switched days and nights. Research has been finding that the body’s clock is responsible for more than just sleep and wakefulness. Other systems, like hunger, mental alertness, mood, stress, heart function, and immunity also operate on a daily rhythm. The pandemic may throw the normal patterns out of whack and take a toll on physical and mental health, especially for people who experienced job loss. Even shifting the clock an hour forward or backward when daylight savings time begins or ends can disrupt our biological clocks.
What psychologists know, is that when we are under chronically difficult conditions, it’s very helpful to divide the problem into two categories: things I can do something about, and then things I can do nothing about. There is a lot that falls under that second category right now, and that’s okay, but one thing that helps us to deal with that is creating distractions for ourselves. From our survey, 40% of those, who are experiencing anxiety or depression at the moment, have more time to do what they love or try new things, such as watching TV shows/movies, exercising, cooking culinary masterpieces, or e-learning and starting a new hobby.
Domestic Abuse Has Risen Worldwide Since Self-Isolation
Self-isolation aimed to stop the spread of the coronavirus may be making violence in homes more frequent, more severe and more dangerous. Domestic violence usually goes up whenever families spend more time together, such as the Christmas and summer vacations. Being in a state of anxiety and stress for extended periods of time is likely to make the lockdown time more dangerous for women and children. According to NeMolchiKz, a national movement against sexual harassment, only in April 2020, domestic violence in Kazakhstan against women increased by 23.6%, and National Trust Hotline reported over 300 calls from women, who experienced domestic abuse in the first weeks of April.
Globalization has given people from Kazakhstan an opportunity to work everywhere in the world. In this survey, we received responses from people currently living in Germany, Malaysia, France, Singapore, Russia and Belarus. Despite being abroad, they still remain spiritually close to home. Experiencing lockdown in a different setting, makes us realize how resilient Kazakhstani youth are across different work cultures. This disruption, however, comes at the expense of our mental health.
The “new normal”
How many of us right now are experiencing uncertainty, confusion, or anxiety during the COVID-19, and are we ready for the “new normal”? The media coverage mostly focused on the confirmed cases and fatality rates and the contagiousness of the virus. It’s more imperative and easy to measure. In our opinion, what’s harder to measure is the psychological contagion – the worry and negativity can pass from one person to another as quickly as a virus. In our survey, we asked the respondents of their thoughts on society’s reaction to self-isolation. The answer wasn’t surprising, 49% of respondents think that “even though there’s quarantine, people don’t really follow it” and 51% think “most people take things seriously, trying to stay home and go out only when it’s needed”.
From The Washington Post, Mental health experts say it’s normal for people to be anxious and worried amid a highly disruptive health emergency that is shot through with uncertainties.
In our survey, 62.5% of respondents feel more optimistic and positive during the quarantine. We asked, what keeps them positive during this crisis, and the answers were as following: 17% invest time in e-Learning, online classes, learning new languages (Recommended: online courses by Harvard, Learning How To Learn on Coursera, Duolingo, an app to learn new languages ); 18% exercise, practice yoga or meditation and take time for reflection (Recommended: Calm, Headspace, Simple Habit); and for roughly 29%, the daily routine remains normal.
Even though we have a safe environment and recourses to stay healthy to self-isolate ourselves, sometimes, we experience feelings and uncertainty of stress during this time.
– To learn more about methods to cope with mental health and help others, we spoke to Daniel Mahadzir, Curator for Global Shapers Kuala Lumpur Hub 2020-21 and the lead contributor for Heads Up Mental Well-being Project to garner his insights.
Daniel’s expert view “How to stay mentally healthy during and after the quarantine”?
This pandemic has changed life as we know it. News everywhere has focused mainly on the way our daily habits must change—from physical distancing to wearing masks. Farther from the front pages has been the critical issue of mental health, and data suggests we’re facing serious challenges related to depression, anxiety and emotional exhaustion. Here are some tips to keep your mind healthy during this trying time;
Focus on purpose
We can generate a sense of meaning when we are able to make a unique contribution and feel connected to something bigger than ourselves. This single action of staying home is more tangible and may have felt more personal if you understand there is a purpose in avoiding actions like shopping or socializing. While this may feel very small and less purpose-driven, you also need to remember the importance of protecting yourself and your community. After you came to terms with physical distancing, expand your “Great Life Purpose” list by mastering new skills or knowledge from an online e-Learning platform, teaching children at home or supporting older people. You’ll feel better.
Establish a routine
Routines can be normalizing and help our sense of equilibrium. Set regular times for your day—from getting out of bed to having meals or taking breaks. Reach out to others and set common “virtual” routines with them as well. Perhaps it’s a Tuesday morning meditation with office workers, a Wednesday evening laughing yoga with colleagues or a Friday evening dinner with your best friends to close out the week. These kinds of activities bring patterns and predictability to hours that could otherwise be empty or isolating.
Communicate, a lot
The deluge of information can feel overwhelming lately, but a big part of mental well-being is feeling connected. Staying in communication with others you trust can be helpful to them and you. Now more than ever, people need clear and consistent communication, easy-to-access tools to help them do their jobs and opportunities to connect informally with their colleagues. Start by asking questions, listening and resisting the urge to offer advice. But the main thing is to demonstrate that you care.
We are all wired for connection and in hard times, our human instinct is to contribute. Be aware of the well-being of your immediate contacts, demonstrate your care by asking them if they are doing OK. Practice the value of mutual aid and this time is an opportunity for a more mutual sharing of resources and support. When you are able to help others, you will feel stronger, more authentic and more empathetic. However, when you need help, – don’t be afraid to ask for it.
Give yourself permission to be down or off your normal game. Give some time to your body and mind to accept these new normal. After all, things are very far from normal. But also motivate yourself to learn, develop and grow. Be grateful to others and be grateful for what you have. Reach out and make connections with people. Remind yourself you will get through this and there will be a new normal on the other side.
Being always in a rush, creating a frenzied lifestyle puts us in our own created prison of being isolated from our own thoughts. During this time being on quarantine, many people could have the chance to slow down. In Praise of Wasting Time, there is simply the needed replenishment of mind that comes from doing nothing in particular, from taking long mental walks without destination, from finding a few moments of quiet away from the noise of the world. The mind needs to rest.
Last year in December, this powerful message was found in the streets of Hong Kong –
“We can’t return to normal, because the normal that we had was precisely the problem”. Maybe it was related to another event that was happening in Hong Kong at that time, but we believe it is relevant today. Maybe going back to ‘new normal’ is a start to slow down, take things with gratitude, invest more time in self-reflection and live deliberately. Setting ourselves free from our own created prison let us increase creativity. With creativity comes new innovations, healthier decisions, and self-awareness.
This article was written based on an ‘8 questions about quarantine’ that was done between ‘April 14 – April 20, 2020. Tomas Akynov was responsible for the survey design and dissemination. Natalia Donova and Viktoriya Satarova were responsible for analysis and writing. We would like to thank everyone who participated in the survey and Dr. Daniel Mahadzir for his opinion.