• Covid-19 Helpline India

Dissociative Disorders and the Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic unfolding around the globe has raised a unique set of challenges. The pandemic has become a serious global crisis and has been referred as the “unique pandemic”. This crisis has evolved from a local to global health crisis. The horizon currently remains uncertain, the physical and psychological well-being of humanity is being affected by not just the virus but also with mental health disorders.

The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th edition) (DSM-5) defines dissociative disorder as “a disruption of and/or discontinuity in the normal integration of consciousness, memory, identity, emotion, perception, body representation, motor control, and behaviour”. This usually disrupts every area of mental functioning.

There are three types of dissociative disorders :

  • Dissociative identity disorder

  • Dissociative amnesia

  • Depersonalization/ derealization disorder

When there is a loss in the rhythm of our daily lives, people usually don’t recognise their homes or communities and this detachment usually takes place where there is a natural disaster. The COVID-19 may not have changed our environment but has surely, changed our lives. In a nutshell, COVID-19 has changed the way we see and navigate our lives.

When there is a sudden change in the routine of our lives, we end up diversifying our perceptions about everyone around us so much so that often, our emotional responses seem unfamiliar. The rate of dissociation increases during such periods just like it does in times of war and disaster. For example, after the car crash, people often say that they had trouble making sense of what actually happened. For many people, dissociation is a natural response to trauma that they cant control.

There are two spectrums of the dissociation.

On the lesser end of the spectrum, people tend to experience day dreaming, wherein they often experience a conscious dream in which they try to escape the present situation by visiting a more pleasing situation.

According to the Mayo Clinic, many people experience daydreaming for years, it is actually a coping mechanism which the mind uses to deal with over load of stress.

On the other end of the spectrum, individuals lose control of their consciousness or detach from their physical self while doing something mindless.

For example, individuals binge watching Netflix/playing video games and before they realise it, four hours have passed.

According to Sally Baker, “The pandemic has heightened levels of anxiety for others, with some struggling with the feeling of dissociation. These people are often triggered by feeling of overwhelm from previous trauma. It could be events from their past that they have not considered for a long time”. Lack of sleep can also trigger stress. Grinding teeth, tension in muscle, bad tempers and sometimes facing stress while walking outside are all symptoms of anxiety which are not often acknowledged.

Manners to Handle Dissociative Disorders

Therapists are often recommended for dissociative disorders. The main aim of therapy or counselling is to help the struggling person to cope with underlying symptoms by teaching them about certain techniques and then making them practice those to manage the period of feeling disconnected.

Further, the person can try to create an imaginary container and put their intrusive thoughts or overwhelming emotions in it. Then, imagine exhaling those distressing thoughts from their hands and pretend to lock them in a drawer.

TV shows can make some people feel worse. Avoiding crime dramas and soaps is the way to go, if you are triggered by violence or arguing. Stick to shows like This is us, BoJack Horseman, Drag race and Planet Earth where the content is funny and predictable.

Medicines like antidepressants are often prescribed by doctors to treat associated conditions like anxiety, depression and panic attacks as there is no specific medicine to treat disassociation.

It is important to ask for help especially if you are feeling suicidal. You are not alone or beyond help. The following are the people you can talk to:

  • A trusted family member or friend

  • Contact NIMHANS (080-46110007)/ KIRAN (1800-599-0019)/ COVID-19 Helpline India (7707070002) for support services

  • Make an urgent appointment to see a therapist, if necessary

Finally, being kind to yourself is very important and being mindful of the fact that you’re dealing with a lot right now is vital. It’s okay even if you are not able to do everything that you wanted to do. Try to make things easier on yourself. Give yourself more time to sleep, prepare your own meal and make time for yourself whenever you can. Forgive yourself whenever you make mistakes.

And try to be kinder to yourself than yesterday.

by- Kosuri Ramadevi

graphic by- Rozanne

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