Virtual Conference On Psychological Consequences & Mental Health

“Awareness On The Psychological Consequences And Mental Health In Pandemics’’ A Case Of COVID-19 Infodemic”

Virtual Conference On Psychological Consequences & Mental Health

Organized by Department of Biotechnology, Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad in collaboration of UNESCO Jakarta (December 31, 2020). COVID-19 has devastated the global health infrastructure in all means and ways. Countries are struggling to control the spread of the disease and in this regard global collaboration is need of the day for the effective and complete eradication of the disease. In addition, psychological impacts of COVID-19 can’t be ignored. Keeping this aspect in view, Department of Biotechnology, Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad (QAU) in collaboration with UNESCO office Jakarta arranged a one-day conference entitled “Awareness on the Psychological Consequences and Mental Health in Pandemics’’ A Case of COVID-19 Infodemic” on December 31, 2020. The conference was organized to celebrate the theme “Science for and with the Society in Dealing with Global Pandemic”. Infodemiology is the science of distribution and determinants of information in an electronic medium, specifically the internet, or in a population, with the ultimate aim to inform public health and public policy. Infodemiology data can be collected and analyzed in near real time.

In the virtual Conference renewed speakers and experts shared their knowledge and understandings regarding the theme. Chief guest of the event was Worthy Vice Chancellor QAU Prof. Dr. Muhammad Ali, while Prof. Shahbaz Khan (Director UNESCO Jakarta) was guest of honor. Moreover, guest speakers included Prof. Zabta Khan Shinwari (Professor Emeritus, QAU), Prof. Anila Kamal (Director, National Institute of Psychology, QAU), Prof. Saeed Khan (Dow University, Karachi), Dr. Tabinda Malik (Senior Advisor Health Security Partners, Washington D.C), Dr. Ali Talha Khalil (Pathologist, Lady Reading Hospital), Dr. Javed Muhammad (Assistant Professor University of Haripur), and Dr. Humaira Jami (National Institute of Psychology, QAU). Dr. Muhammad Ali from the department of Biotechnology (QAU) was conference secretory.  The conference participants concluded that a huge chunk of misinformation during the pandemic has caused a major concern that has paved a way for fear and anxiety resulting in a psychological burden and mental stress among the general population, patients, health professionals, physicians etc. Such psychological distresses can make people more vulnerable to the other viral/bacterial infections including SARS-CoV-2. Therefore, it is important to address the issue which can become a major concern in the future.

Like the previous epidemics and outbreaks, the current pandemic of COVID-19 has characterized that the infectious diseases do not recognizes race, ethnicity, religion, country or any physical boundaries. COVID-19 has caused a significant negative impact on health, education and economy and its shocks are felt worldwide, especially in the developing and underdeveloped regions. On the positive side, however, the COVID-19 has emerged as a test case for humanity and caused a change in the ways of thinking about dealing with unprecedented scenarios. According to the situational reports by the World Health Organization, the grand total of the total COVID-19 infections was 81,475,053 with death toll rising to 1,798,050 as of December 31, 2020 (Source WHO). A coherent, combined, inclusive and holistic approach by the global fraternity has reduced the rate of transmission which otherwise, is predicted to impact entire human race. The much useful options of physical distancing, complete lock downs, smart lock downs have been effective in reducing the transmission of the COVID-19. Besides being an expanding pandemic, COVID-19 is accompanied by a tsunami of false information floating through the social, electronic, and print media making the surge for authentic information and news much harder as expressed by WHO. The fear and anxiety of the geographical expansion of the new disease and resulting changes in daily patterns and routine life can be hard to cope. The economic breakdown and uncertainties related to COVID-19 can increase risk of mental health and psychological overburdening. While living through a stressing lock down situation, with the spread of the false or unauthentic information through social media can result in a psychological stress, which has paved a way for a psychological pandemic. Mental and psychological repercussions will remain a problem during and after the pandemic. One of the major challenges is to deal with the psychological burden on segments of the society that are not well versed with the scientific knowledge. Rumors and false information through social media bring enormous mental distress and necessitates the need for responsible information sharing. Accumulative evidence indicates that the psychologically burdened patients are more vulnerable to the viral infections and other diseases. For COVID-19 patients being not in connection with the family or loved ones during hospital stays and quarantine may cause psychological instability. Already, high rates of post-traumatic symptoms have been reported in clinically stable people discharged from hospital after recovering from COVID-19. Patients with existing mental disorders are more vulnerable to the SARS-CoV-2 infection. Medical doctors, health care professionals and researchers were at the forefront of fighting the pandemic and often the first contact point of possible patients that contracted the SARS CoV-2. The front-line workers have also reported negative consequences as a result of stress exposure and fear of infecting themselves or their loved ones.

The present conference is an effort to control the spread of myths and rumors related to the pandemic. “We must learn to listen to science, think globally, act locally, counter misinformation”. “We must look after the Mother Nature and should avoid pseudoscience” one of the guest speaker Professor Zabta Stressed. Another speaker Dr. Ali Talha Khalil explained that the virus is getting smarter through a natural process of adaptations which signifies the need for proactive strategies to cope. He further explained that the psychological stress ends in weakened immune system and can make people more prone to the viral infections. Dr. Javed Muhammad from University of Haripur shed light on good practices and recommendations for managing pandemics and infodemics. He also focused on appropriate use of social media to deal with fake news, journalists training on health and scientific topics to verify information so public can get authentic information from media. Dr. Tabinda Malik, senior advisor health security from Washington D.C talked about effect of COVID-19 on mental health and how to take care of oneself and community during pandemic. Dr. Tabinda also emphasized on the need to understand and improve mental health of people. Dr. Humaira Jami assistant professor from National Institute of Psychology (QAU) delivered talk on intolerance of uncertainty, conspiracy beliefs and stress of COVID-19 among adults during coronavirus pandemic. Dr. Ali Talha Khalil from Lady Reading Hospital briefed participants about contribution of social isolation to suicidal behavior and how to be prepared for smart virus and evolving pandemic. Prof. Anila Kamal highlighted initiatives by National Institute of Psychology (QAU) during the COVID-19. She discussed the strategies to deal with mental health and psychological aspects of the current pandemic. Dr. Muhammad Ali (Conference secretory and assistant professor of Biotechnology) acknowledged support from UNESCO in organizing the event. In the end chairman Department of Biotechnology, Dr. Bilal Haider Abbasi concluded conference with special thanks to honorable speakers and participants and he also appreciated the organizing team.