Besides battling a disease, COVID positive patients also face societal ostracisation. Dr Ambrish Dharmadhikari has some strategies to help a family member cope with both
Anu, a 32-year old married nurse, was working regularly as a frontline health worker against COVID in her ward. In the morning, she was going through all reports and attaching the respective files of the patients. While going through them, Anu suddenly froze for a moment; one patient of her ward was COVID positive. She was unable to process and didn’t know how to respond. Anu was not afraid of contracting infection; she had faced it all her life and had been trained for same. But she was worried about the aftermath of being positive — home quarantine, reaction of family members, society and friends and so much more.
It is easier said than done when one has to be quarantined (especially at home) after testing positive. Studies have shown that majority of positive cases show no or minimal symptoms of the virus. This has created anxiety among people and they fear contracting the virus from patients as s/he would show no symptoms. Home quarantined people feel anxious because of the reaction and anxiety of people surrounding them. This makes it more difficult to handle. If you are someone whose family member has tested positive, let us understand how to deal with societal pressure and judgments.
Your family member needs support as these are challenging times and they might be feeling helpless and guilty, to some extent. You are expected to take necessary precautions to avoid contracting the virus but at same time, the family member should not feel isolated and an outcast. It’s time to step up and defeat the virus together. To express your support, being with the member matters the most. A sense of normalcy provided by other family members will give immense psychological support to the affected.
Having close contact with someone COVID positive will cause great scrutiny from people around; many societies have not welcomed such families and asked them to remain in institutional quarantine. It is traumatic to know that people are not welcome in their own homes.
Even if any family welcomes the affected member, the society often blames and treats them differently. This might create a feeling of guilt in the affected. It is important to be empathetic towards such family and not pass on the blame to them. It is time to reassure them, give them hope and lend an emotional support. You may also be required to defend them against other anxious people of the society who will rush to imaginative conclusions and worst outcomes. Communicating calmly will help them come out of this despair. You are a corona warrior shielding them from negativity and pessimism.
Constantly and actively engaging with the affected family member gives much required support to them. Positive affirmation, reassuring statements, compassionate communication, empathetic listening and active engagement forms road to mental health recovery. One may engage with the affected in innovative ways. It is advised to play non-contact games, have a conversation around memories of the past, go through old photo albums and relive joyous time spent together. One can also discuss non COVID related current events. Family that stays together is happy together.
These are various strategies one can use to help family member cope up with societal pressure and judgements.
(The author is the head of Medical Services (Psychiatrist), Mpower-The Foundation, Mumbai.)