A mother who has recovered talks about her fight against COVID-19; and a QF counselor explains the importance of community support and decreasing stigma
“That night, when I put my child in his bed, I felt restless and frightened, my temperature was high, and it had been that way since morning. I was hiding my symptoms from my family, refusing to admit I was sick.
But when I looked at my child's sleeping face, I felt horribly guilty. I could no longer ignore my worsening state. So, the next morning, I went to a medical center, and after being tested for COVID-19, was told I had the virus.”
Dizziness, vomiting, difficulty in breathing, in addition to losing my sense of smell, were all the symptoms I suffered from severely
This was how Abeer Yassin’s fight against COVID-19 began – an experience that kept her away for weeks from her family, and saw her embark on a journey full of challenges, which, ultimately, left her stronger and with a renewed lease of life.
“At the beginning of the treatment, the nurses were unable to draw blood from my veins to do the tests, because my stress levels were too high. They had to fill seven tubes. And this was only one of the challenges I went through. The mounting tension caused many health problems, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome,” she says.
“Dizziness, vomiting, difficulty in breathing, in addition to losing my sense of smell, were all the symptoms I suffered from severely.”
Research shows that the body and mind are one and interconnected – what affects our physical health affects our mental health, and vice versa. We are all familiar with feeling fatigued, down, and anxious when we are physically unwell. Similarly, when we are under mental and emotional distress, we feel tired, sluggish, and may have problem with our sleep and eating.
Dr. Mahnaz Nowrozi Mousavi, Director of Student Wellness and Counseling at Georgetown University in Qatar – a Qatar Foundation (QF) partner university – says: “Mental health plays an important role in healing patients, especially in COVID-19 patients. A healthy emotional state can promote a healthy immune system, which helps in the treatment of the virus. On the other hand, some mental states such as severe anxiety can make us more vulnerable to negative adaptations such as denying or escaping the reality of our condition, which may cause further complications of the disease.
“So, it is very important to seek support and help from others and prioritize our mental health,” says Dr. Mousavi.
During the quarantine period, I kept in contact with my child, virtually, I taught him how to grow plants in the garden, His interaction and enthusiasm helped me recover quickly
The impact of isolation differs from one person to another. Although family contact is important for our mental health, sometimes separation between members of the family is necessary to prevent the virus from spreading.
“When I was leaving my house to go to the hospital, my child – Rayan – told me that he wished he was infected like me, so he could go with me. And this caused me severe emotional distress,” Abeer says. “Since the virus is contagious, I thought I’d transmitted it to my husband and child, but fortunately I hadn’t.”
During the quarantine period, Abeer kept in contact with her family through videos chats and phone calls. “I taught Rayan how to grow onions and mint in the garden,” she says. “I reassured him that I was fine because I followed the advice of doctors. And whenever I was feeling well, I would organize several online activities with him. His interaction and enthusiasm helped me recover quickly, and I was able to return to my family.”
Dr. Mahnaz Mousavi says that we can reduce the negative effects of separation from children by using virtual communication, spend time with them engaging in online activities like reading and playing, and teaching them about the infection and the time it takes to recover.
When you are sick, everything you previously took for granted becomes a challenge. Struggling to breath, unable to sleep, loss of smell – all of it makes you realize the importance of what you had
The fear of losing her battle with COVID-19, exacerbated by reading the news about the pandemic, caused Abeer great mental and emotional stress.
“I was concerned about how well my body could tackle the virus, but the care I received from the medical team, and the love and support from my family and friends, made me stronger,” Abeer explains.
“I started seeing life differently, the value of my family, my friends, my health. When you are sick, everything you previously took for granted becomes a challenge. Struggling to breath, unable to sleep, loss of smell – all of it makes you realize the importance of what you had.”
Rather than hiding her story to avoid the social stigma that might surround her, Abeer shared her experience on social media to raise awareness about this virus and how to face it with hope.
The stigma surrounding COVID-19 and mental health can make the problem more complicated. Educating our community is one effective way of fighting stigma
Infected individuals may internalize stigma, believing that they did something wrong because they became sick. In extreme forms, social rejection, gossip, and denying care can be imposed. Also, anticipating stigma may prevent people from seeking health care immediately.
“The stigma surrounding COVID-19 and mental health can make the problem more complicated. Educating our community is one effective way of fighting stigma. This can be done by providing facts about COVID-19 from reputable sources. Stopping the spread of rumors can help reduce unnecessary stress and anxiety,” Dr. Mousavi says.
We all play a vital role in reducing rumors and stigma and support each other. We need to remind ourselves that the pandemic is a global issue. We need to come together to support people who may feel stigmatized
”We all play a vital role in reducing rumors and stigma and support each other. We need to remind ourselves that the pandemic is a global issue and it is not specific to one particular group of people. We need to come together to support people who may feel stigmatized.
“It’s worth remembering that those who have recovered from the virus are wonderful assets to help educate and inspire others by sharing their stories and their struggles.”
Abeer has now recovered and returned to her family. “My COVID-19 experience taught me a lot. I am incredibly grateful to the healthcare providers. While I was isolated, I used my time to reevaluate my priorities, and have learned to appreciate the little things in life.
“To eat breakfast in the morning with my family, to be able to smell the flowers near my window, and to see the sunlight in my room. All these details that I took for granted have become so valuable,” Abeer said.