The ways of submariners – who face long spells of isolation among themselves and society as a whole during their time at sea, may prove invaluable to individuals, families and communities who are currently experiencing psychological trauma from long periods without contact with the wider world as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, mental health experts suggest.
Dr. Dmitry Kovpak, psychotherapist, physician and specialist in the treatment of depression and phobias at the Moscow Institute of Psychoanalysis, says maintaining a regimented schedule - including strict observance of sleep, work and rest periods, is important to maintaining proper emotional balance during a prolonged period of self-isolation. At the same time, he warns against treating the lockdown like a prolonged holiday or party, or abusing alcohol during quarantine, suggesting that doing so will only upset one's psycho-emotional balance.
“As advised by the captains of submarines, standards must be followed. The daily routine is the thing that helps submariners, helps keep them calm and preserves their hope for the future. What’s more, this ‘hope’ effect is important to maintaining physical health as well. So long as there are no vaccines or medicines [to treat coronavirus], our peace of mind, our psychological balance is the main weapon we have. They are what will help support our immune system,” Kovpak said in an interview.
Svetlana Shtukareva, the director of the Moscow Institute of Psychoanalysis’s Higher School of Logotherapy, agrees, and says that even though it may be difficult for the human psyche to accept the restrictions, individuals who see opportunities, and not just challenges, in the self-isolation measures will have a better chance to survive the crisis with their mental health intact.
“Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychologist and prisoner of Nazi concentration camps, spoke of a phenomenon known as ‘Sunday neurosis’,” Shtukareva recalls. Frankl described the phenomenon as “that kind of depression which afflicts people who become aware of the lack of content in their lives when the rush of the busy week is over and the void within themselves becomes manifest.”
“The best indicator of the extent of meaning you have in your life is shown by how easily you endure your weekend,” Shtukareva notes. The same applies to the current circumstances and the lockdown. “If self-isolation causes you suffering, it is an indication that your life was not complete. So quarantine is an opportunity to recall important matters and people in your life whom you may have previously postponed ‘for later.’ Recognize that this ‘later’ has come about,” she recommends.
Last week, AFP reported that over 3.9 billion people, or roughly half of the world’s population, have been asked or ordered to stay at home by their governments to try to help slow the spread of COVID-19. According to the news agency, over 90 nations around the world have introduced some kind of mandatory or recommended self-confinement, curfew and quarantine measures.
Since emerging in Wuhan, China in late 2019, the novel coronavirus has gone on to spread to virtually every country in the world, with the World Health Organization reporting over 1.7 million confirmed cases and more than 103,000 fatalities associated with the virus. In addition to the health crisis, the pandemic has caused an economic catastrophe which the International Monetary Fund estimates is the worst since the 1930s Great Depression.