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The psychological toll of the pandemic

The psycho-social impact of COVID-19

Author:Dr. Yuchia Tsai, Global Medical Director for Health Intelligence ( Hi™) Consulting Services at Doc Privē, (MBBCh, Master of Public Health (Epidemiology and Biostatistics), MBA Clinical Virology, Clinical Genetics, Bioinformatics)

COVID-19 is the most viral term bandied about in 2020, capturing the attention of global audiences, reaching a frenzied height on social media by the middle of March 2020.

It is also one of the most rapidly sequenced new pathogens achieving the feat within less than 1 week between its discovery to full genetic sequencing.

There is also the issue of the naming conundrum, with confusion and disagreement between all parties concerned before settling on the name “SARS coronavirus” version “2.0”, as it is more than 88% similar genetically to the classic SARS virus that surfaced in 2003.

There are many more firsts for this virus, including being the pathogen that closed the most borders, stoked the most conspiracy theories and kept the greatest number of students away from school.

Amidst all this chaos and excitement, the psychological aspects of this pandemic are often overlooked, even though these are probably going to be the most long-lasting in the collective human consciousness.

On an individual level, the uncertainty of a life-threatening pandemic and the impact on everyday life causes significant stress and anxiety. The changes to daily routine for parents of school-going children who are now grounded and spending a significant period of time with the now work-from-home parents can create massive disruptions to their daily routine and significant psychological stress. There is a sense of despair as the pandemic drags on without a possible end in sight.

There are many things that could be done to alleviate personal stress during the pandemic:

1. Ensure good nutrition

2. Exercise

3. Have some alone time especially when in-quarantine with family members.

4. Establish a routine amongst all the chaos.

5. Re-evaluate priorities in life

6. Know that one can not control everything and accept a healthy dose of fatalism. Sometimes, giving up control can offer a sense of calm.

For those who are career-minded, this is really a paradigm shifting moment:

1. For the older generation, change your communication strategy and style, mainly by adapting to the digital world

2. For those digital-native millennials, take time to appreciate the human connection and the social contacts that have been taken away.

3. Instead of looking desperately for the end of the pandemic, try to adapt and modify current mindsets and practices. These will bode you well not only for the current pandemic, but also for the next one that will inevitably come as an evolutionary certainty.

As the pandemic progresses, there will inevitably be casualties. Know that there are stages of grief (Kübler-Ross model) that one will go through: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. While this could be applied to individuals, organizations go through similar stages. The most important stage to overcome is that of denial as it is in recognizing that there is a problem that individuals and organizations can be spurred into action to start to protect themselves and changing the outcome into a more favourable one.

There will be fundamental changes to society after the pandemic is over. It is important to maintain our compassion, humanity and tenacity throughout this crisis.

The Chinese word for “crisis” contains the character “peril” and the character “opportunity”.

Utilize the time well to think ahead of the curve on the kind of opportunities brought about by this pandemic. Is it more time to spend with your loved ones? Is it a chance to restructure your work and communication style? Is it changing the way you do things by adopting innovative ways to relate to each other?

There are also the issues of stigmatization and victim-blaming. These same issues were rife at the beginning of the HIV epidemic. Pandemic mitigation efforts can be severely hampered if people are afraid to be tested because of stigmatization and fear of quarantine.

While governments try to contain the spread of the COVID-19, there will invariably be security concerns and potentially civil unrest when normal civil liberty has been suspended in states of emergency and disaster, adding another layer of complexity to the pandemic.

Remember those who are vulnerable in the society and look after them. We are only as strong as our weakest members.

As the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer a purely medical crisis, organizations and individuals must adapt and prepare for the long-haul, considering the multiple aspects of the pandemic: the human aspect, the business/operational aspect and future risk-assessment and risk mitigation strategies to ensure their survival.

International SOS has been actively engaged in supporting organizations through this crisis that has become more than just a medical issue, as we have also done in the past for previous crises. Reliable, updated information has been provided on our website: There is also more in-depth, intensive support for organizations who requires support through an ongoing partnership in this difficult time.

Quoting Winston Churchill: “Never waste a good crisis!”. Let the pandemic be the impetus for change, for the better.


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