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Anxiety, depression, isolation: 50 Indians on biggest mental health challenges they've faced amid COVID-19 crisis

'What for you has been the most challenging issue to deal with, with respect to mental health, over this pandemic and lockdowns?'

This was a question we asked 50 of our readers, who responded with a range of concerns. For some, being in lockdown had led to recent mental health issues or exacerbated pre-existing conditions. Isolation, loneliness and anxiety emerged as the biggest beasts people were tackling. Others reported depression, being touch-starved, feeling the loss of social skills they had developed painstakingly over time, being away from family/being too cooped up with family. The lack of productivity, growth and motivation weighed on some. Together, these responses painted a diverse picture of what living in the age of coronavirus is doing to our psyches and minds.

The responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

Trigger warning: Mentions of suicidal thoughts and other mental health issues. Reader discretion is advised.

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Having to sit at home for days at a stretch and not being part of the daily hustle of going to work, along with long, extended working hours as it's difficult to gauge when to put a hard stop for the day.

€" 26, male, Mumbai

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Anxiety and procrastination

€" Don, 27, male, Mumbai

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Going back to my hometown. It is difficult to stay in one single room for almost a year with your family around when you have been living away from them since the last four years. The lack of freedom and privacy takes a toll on you after a certain point of time.

€" 25, female, Mumbai

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Everyone [being] at home€¦ I have my in-laws.

€" 51, female, Mumbai

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[A lack of] consistency

€" Nidhi, 27, female, Mumbai

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Delay in building my career at the most prime time.

€" 24, female, Mumbai

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The loss of routine and work has led to a lot of idle time, which leads to lot of negative thoughts in an already negative time. [My] mental health is at its lowest. €" 27, male, Mumbai

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The sedentary and isolated lifestyle.

€" 25, female, Mumbai

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The depression/anxiety cycle.

€" 29, unclear (leaning toward female), Bengaluru

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To be able to wake up in the morning and do anything has been the hardest. I can't get myself to stop procrastinating. I have no energy for day-to-day things. I don't have any anxiety anymore but the uncertainty of the entire past year has zapped me of my will to keep going.

€" Anish, 28, male, Mumbai

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Isolation, feelings of being trapped, fear of illness and death

€" Safvana, 25, female, Mumbai

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1. Constant fear and constant suicidal thoughts, feeling stuck, unable to open up, communicate and process feelings

2. Feeling guilty for being insensitive and numb towards some serious issues.

3. Not being able to trust anyone or even myself

4. [Finding] accessible and affordable mental health professionals. I've seen so many therapists, did not like their approach and conduct. It's tiring to see new therapists and keep going over your back story again and again.

5. Can't focus on one thing and finish it till the end instead of multi-tasking. Struggling to find your own voice

€" 26, queer, Mumbai

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Being alone, anxiety and possible depression. It hasn't been easy to be away from home, doing so many tasks and handling academia with the fear of catching the virus constantly lurking.

€" 24, female, Geneva

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As an only child, having no physical contact with anyone remotely my age has been draining.

€" Ritika, 26, female, Bengaluru

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Staying in abusive household because it's relatively safer than living alone in a different city in a different state.

I suffer from depression and high functioning anxiety and had just started therapy a few months before the lockdown was imposed. Since the lockdown started, my therapist wasn't able to manage the schedule well, and sometimes I didn't have privacy. This led to no therapy for five-ish months and due to various reasons, I became actively suicidal. When I tried to reach out to her, she started ghosting me and it was just too painful. I finally decided to change my therapist this year, and my mental health has gotten better now. I also lost 13 kg in a matter of a few months last year during the first lockdown. I didn't feel hungry at all, and if I force fed myself, I'd throw up. Among all the bad things with regard to my mental health so far, this was the single most horrifying experience of my life.

€" 24, female, Thane

***

As an extrovert, prior to the pandemic I would usually spend almost seven days of the week with my friends in person, and they were an active part of how I process my life. Through the various lockdowns I saw less and less of my friends, and my best friend who was staying with me had to move away. Learning to live alone, and find happiness independently (my therapist said I need to explore my co-dependency issues) has been incredibly challenging for me. While I still have many friends, I am unable to reach out to them so well over a virtual medium. I only realised how much I need the physical presence of people when it was taken away from me

€" LH, 25, female, Kerala

***

Not knowing when or how this ends, being isolated for so long. €" 30, female, Mumbai

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Being unable to help patients get ICU beds and them dying.

€" Anna Thomas, 53, female, Baengaluru

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Isolation. My mother passed away while travelling was restricted. I couldn't see her one last time. Same about grandma. As someone who lives away from the place I grew up in, the isolation is a real ordeal. A lot of people who were dear to me passed and it's only through text and calls that we can communicate through with our close ones.

Some friends are also having a hard time with mental health. Not being able to support them to the extent that's possible in person bothers me a lot.

Jobs are unsteady and payments are delayed. Even a little time off completely derails financial planning and has been a cause for a lot of anxiety.

Lack of motivation, time seems to have lost any meaning and a load of grief that's unshared or just left unattended seems hard to deal with.

With this much of flux, I don't really know what I am doing in life and what to expect in the coming times. Survival is more or less the only focus.

€" AC, 33, male, Mumbai

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Emotionally overwhelming, social exhaustion without a social life, loss of energy.

€" Vipassana Gautam, 18, female, Indore

***

Debilitating depression. I've been a sufferer pre-COVID, but this has simply exacerbated it.

€" 35, male, Odisha

***

Being extremely touch-starved and living with my parents 24x7. €" 23, male, Mumbai

***

Finding it difficult to know that I might be stuck at home forever, and lose my dream/career objectives of moving to a different city, meeting new people, and have new experiences. In the pandemic year, I have lost touch with old friends, found comfort in not being in touch, and add to that I am not meeting new people or making new friends. It has literally been like zero friends for a very long time now and I'm sure many others will have it tougher than me. Will it be like this forever? That is what scares me.

The second thing that is bothering me is that maybe I am losing several aspects of my personality by being at home, working from [a] computer, and not meeting people or seeing places. It took a lot of effort to develop a personality over the past years of my life. This includes courage to stand up, public speaking, conversation skills, interacting skills, and other technical skills. I will have to start over again, that is something bothering me.

€" Prateek, 25, male, Allahabad

***

Talking to people in general. It's become tedious without a face-to-face medium.

€" Karan, 25, male, Mumbai

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Work has been very hectic. Add to that the absence of human interaction and the constant feeling of missing out or not managing to achieve something during the lockdown was the harshest experience

€" Ibrar, 29, cisgender male, Delhi

***

Feeling isolated from everyone and not having anyone to share good or the bad news with. After a point you feel like you're burdening your friends with information because they also have their own issues to deal with. [I] can't confide much in parents without things turning into a lecture. Don't have a partner currently who could listen and offer support so it's been an overwhelmingly lonely time.

€" 26, female, Delhi

***

The constant proximity of death. It has triggered my suicidal ideation badly €" it's a lot easier to kill yourself when you just have to go outside and wear a mask badly. Ordinary activities have developed the potential for self-harm, the sort which will not make people worry, which makes it a lot more difficult to guard against. I had a mental break after the second wave €" work involved doing extra shifts because of the number of colleagues who had COVID. Combination of burnout and heightened depression reached breaking point. And the loneliness makes it a lot easier to slip into the dark.

€" 28, female, Delhi

***

Low self-esteem and anxiety. €" Wrujuta Sawant, 26, female, Mumbai

***

Dealing with my parents at the age of 25. I lived away for a year or so from them and coming back home and living with them during the pandemic has not been good. All my childhood trauma has resurfaced in the form of panic attacks or periods of time when I don't want to speak to them, at all.

€" Laavanya, 25, female, Delhi

***

The feeling of being locked up and the constant feeling that the world is collapsing around you.

€" 25, female, Delhi

***

Relentless depression, anxiety, existential angst.

€" Raj, 30, male, Mumbai

***

I haven't had any COVID-related casualties in my family, so that was a relief. Mental health-wise, nothing out of the ordinary. I had quit my job in December on an impulse to pursue work independently. Now that requires rigour and discipline and a lot of self-motivation, and the struggle to get those things in order during March to May, while staying locked indoors, and not finding an opportunity for release, got to me because suddenly I began questioning my value, my skills, thinking 'did I bite off more than I could chew?' Around this time, I did consider going to therapy again. But I later realised it's just a matter of getting off your ass and working. The work/self-worth angle aside, I occasionally felt lonely, just as most others, but I have managed so far, and I don't think it has anything to do with the pandemic or lockdown. It's not unusual to once in a while feel lonely.

€" D, 29, male, Kolkata

***

Anxiety€¦ [I] started having panic attacks during lockdown and started medication but am too ashamed to tell my family

€" 31, female, Mumbai

***

Anxiety and depression. €" Mahima, 30, female, Delhi

***

Having [a lack of] privacy in the house with my family, barely any "me time", longing to see other/new people, missing out on key life experiences such as finding a partner.

€" 24, female, Mumbai

***

During the second wave in Delhi, there was an extreme shortage of oxygen, as we all saw. With social media becoming the only working helpline for SOS requests, the most challenging issue was to know when to put the phone away, and the moral dilemma of 'should I nap and recharge or use that time to verify leads for someone in need?' Like a lot of other people, I constantly struggled with the crippling thought of being worthless and corrupt when I did something that didn't directly involve making calls to suppliers for oxygen cylinders, COVID-19 drugs, and the like. The blunder was someone else's but somehow the guilt was mine.

€" A, 25, female, Delhi

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Staying cooped indoors, not meeting my friends. Also worrying about parents getting sick, especially my father who has to travel for work

€" D, 26, female, Delhi

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Not having any human contact whatsoever. Moreover in the second wave, the fear of death of my loved ones gripped me all over

€" 28, male, Ahmedabad

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Social distancing.

€" Purab, 20, male, Mumbai

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Not able to meet my close friends or relatives.

€" 25, male, Gurugram

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Loneliness.

€" 26, male, Gurugram

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Never-ending and long work hours. €" 27, female, Bengaluru

***

Loneliness and sadness.

€" Kirti, 25, female, Delhi

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Just the initial knockdown stage where I could not see my friends and was locked inside [my] house.

€" 22, male, Mumbai

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Interacting with new people is not as easy as it used to be. Prior to the lockdown people were more willing and it was easier for me to make friends and initiate conversations with strangers. Now my need and tolerance for social interactions has decreased drastically.

€" Pranav Shah, 22, male, Mumbai

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Anxiety, thinking I'm not doing enough in terms of productivity. €" Abhishek Khanna, 22, male, Mumbai

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I've been less productive compared to before, which worries me.

€" Krish, 21, male, Mumbai

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Dealing with the fact that this pandemic isn't going to end soon and feeling like I'm stuck in a loop.

€" Suhasini, 24, female, Mumbai

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My relationships.

€" Rhea, 21, yin, Bengaluru

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Was already tackling burnout and anxiety, and lockdown has made everything worse. There are so many more stressors now and death everywhere, it's become a scary world to live in.

€" 28, female, Mumbai

***

All illustrations via Shutterstock

Write to us with your COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown experiences at firstculturefeatures@gmail.com

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