The Breakthrough Voice 17th April, 2020

In Conversation With Dr. Ram: Covid-19, Privilege And How To Do Better.

Doctor Jai Ranjan Ram is a Consultant Psychiatrist at Apollo Gleneagles Hospital, Kolkata and the Co-founder of Mental Health Foundation, Kolkata. In this interview, he walks us through the social and emotional ramifications of the global pandemic and how it has compelled us to re-evaluate our lives.

What are the social effects of Covid-19 and do women and men get impacted differently?


“Covid-19 has impacted everyone in a different way – depending on the age group, depending on gender, socio-economic status. We all are affected. But we can’t really say that everyone is going to be affected the same way, which is common sense. For many, this is transiting into a much wider state of anxiety, depression and helplessness.

With regards to women, there are a few issues. One is that many of us do have a pretty tenuous marriage. But somehow we manage to maintain domestic harmony, or at least a semblance of it because everyone is busy in their work-life, husbands are going out, children are going to school, etc. But now because everyone has to be present at home – our face to face interactions have increased. Since we all are anxious in a number of ways – we are not at all presenting our best selves. I might be irritated about my loss of income. I might be worried about my future job prospects. I might not be used to staying at home like this.”


What should we keep in mind?


“This is a time-bound phase so it’s not going to last forever. We need to hold on to the fact that this shall pass. Secondly, by staying indoors we are contributing to the welfare of our own selves as well as the welfare of the community around us. So we have to invoke a sense of social harmony, by adhering to the lockdown and restricting ourselves to this limited physical space we have.

I also think we need to be at least a bit reflective. In a broader sense, this whole pandemic has taken us to a new zone where a small virus has forced us to review our lives. This, in many ways, is a degree of self-reflection – which unfortunately most men are unable to do, so I’m not sure how practical this advice is for men. But for those of us who are able to self-reflect and value what is around us – I think it gives us a chance to value what is around us and be more appreciative and grateful for what we have.”


What has this pandemic taught us?


“What this pandemic has shown us is that it doesn’t make a distinction between rich and poor. We often find ourselves in circumstances in life where we have to be dependent on the wealth and charity of the people around us rather than whoever we depend on. In this case, it’s not Donald Trump, not Narendra Modi – but it’s the people around us that form our community and are going to help us. This pandemic has shown us that people have been extraordinarily kind in helping others in some situations and people have been able to reach out and connect with each other.

There is this phrase called ‘Post Traumatic Growth’. Although this is used for larger trauma like surviving cancer or a road accident. Post the pandemic – I think there is an opportunity to grow as human beings, to establish deeper, meaningful connections because ultimately that enriches our lives a lot more than earning 5 lakh rupees or having a particular designer pair of shoes.”


What has the pandemic also taught us about valuing those around us?


“My request would be to think of it as an opportunity to forge deeper connections and bonds. So what we call in psychological terms as ‘cognitive reframing’ – basically, it’s not a glass half empty but a glass half full. Somehow this virus has given us the opportunity to bond with each other. For example – a colleague of mine said that she has brought out all these old albums of her childhood and she has been sharing those memories with her son and daughter. Her children were thrilled to know about those parts of her life because she chose to share.

This is a chance to grow as a human being, grow in your relationships, you can review and do more things which you have never done but have always thought about. Think of it as an opportunity rather than something we have to endure.”


What can we take away from all this?


“For children – this is the time to educate them about values. We are worried about what things we will have access to in a week’s time, or in 3-4 days – but for the majority of Indians, severe deprivation is a reality. So again, use these examples as ‘teachable moments’ about larger things and social issues. Introspect on the fact that we are privileged, we have a roof over our heads, we are worried about the next 1-2 days, but that is only on a temporary basis. This is not the case for the majority of people. We can live without expensive foreign holidays, life can be a lot simpler and frugal and we can survive. In a way, it’s a pointer towards human resilience, which we may not have been able to appreciate unless this had happened.”

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