Pakistani Resilience in the Face of COVID-19
An interview with Aelia Zaidi on the pandemic's psychological impact.
Posted Aug 29, 2020
Every country has experienced COVID-19 differently, but Pakistanis have shown exceptional resilience in coping with the pandemic. Social media, collectivist culture, and nationwide resilience cultivated from the last decade have contributed to how the country is approaching the pandemic.
Aelia Zaidi is a doctoral candidate in the field of psychology and serving as a faculty member at the University of Karachi, Pakistan. Besides engaging in research on the "Impact of COVID-19," “Stigma related to mental health,” and “Terrorism," she has an interest in everything that affects the mental health of Pakistanis. Her latest commentary on COVID-19 is published in Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy journal.
Jamie Aten: How would you personally describe the COVID-19 situation in Pakistan?
Aelia Zaidi: Almost four months have passed since the first case of COVID-19 was reported on 26th of February 2020. With no treatment in sight, the situation is getting tough. The fragile health care system is overburdened beyond capacity. Many front-line warriors have lost their life battle in their fight against COVID-19. Moreover, living under the pandemic is not the same for everyone. As the cases of COVID-19 are increasing, there have been reports of rising cases of psychological problems, domestic abuse, and suicides.
On the other hand, the heightened fear and stigma surrounding COVID-19 that was observed initially is gradually declining. Technology is bridging the gap caused by social distancing. As the lockdown is being lifted, people are progressively accepting the new normal.
JA: What are some ways understanding Pakistan's COVID-19 situation can help us live more resiliently?
AZ: In the past decade, Pakistanis have witnessed both manmade and natural disasters. Despite living under poverty and testing times, the resilience shown by the people of Pakistan is unmatched. These experiences have always led to a collective effort to overcome the situation. COVID-19 was a global challenge as no one was prepared for it. On the flip side, Pakistanis living under lockdown are now turning to social media, helping the people in their fight against COVID-19 by sharing information regarding medical supplies, giving hope by sharing their recovery stories, funding charities, and supplying free food to COVID-19 victims. The way people are coming together using technology is setting a great example [of] how to live resiliently and proactively under a Pandemic.
JA: What are some ways people can cultivate resilience amidst this pandemic?
AZ: Dealing with a disaster is always difficult at first. However, living amidst COVID-19 has taught us new ways to develop resilience. In these times, we must actively seek authentic sources of information. For example, WHO and CDC updates should be preferred. Staying positive and spreading hope is another aspect of resilience. Locally, an initiative taken by the government of Pakistan has given a social media platform to ace psychologists to raise awareness about cultivating coping skills in the national language. Such initiatives are helpful in reaching out to the people. Moreover, individuals differ in how they process a disaster situation. Every disaster unfolds new ways of coping with the difficult life situations. Amidst the crisis, finding out the key to individual adaptation can do wonders for each one of us.
JA: Any advice for how we might use what you have learned to support a friend or loved one struggling with a difficult life situation?
AZ: As mysteries surrounding the virus spread, with treatment still in experimental phases, COVID-19 comes with severe psychological costs. This medical disease can be contained by limiting interaction with other people. Isolation by itself becomes the most painful ordeal especially in a collective culture where the very fabric of the society is knitted on interdependence. The social support can be a huge resource in dealing with the anxiety related to isolation and quarantine. It is important that the social circle treat the person already battling COVID-19 with empathy and compassion. During tough times, it is important to remember that as the number of identified cases are rising, so is the recovery rate. Staying hopeful and connected can ease the pain of living through [a] difficult time.
JA: What are you currently working on that you might like to share about?
AZ: COVID-19 is a different kind of a challenge. Dr. Amena Zehra Ali and I are looking forward to gauging the current situation in a more holistic manner. Currently, I am planning to study the impact of COVID-19 at the individual as well as the societal level. At the individual level, those suffering from COVID-19—as well as their caregivers—have detailed personal accounts of making it through the difficult ordeal. These experiences can help us discover the psychological factors that have helped people recover from COVID-19. At a societal level, the collective efforts of people in dealing with the pandemic can provide us with a list of ethical behaviours to do and unethical behaviours to avoid in the time of pandemic. The key to surviving a pandemic may be found in exploring the experiences of the unsung heroes of the most unpredictable times.
*This interview is limited to the COVID-19 related development in Pakistan. The views expressed do not represent the university that I am serving in.
Zaidi, A., & Ali, A. Z. (2020). Living under the shadow of a pandemic: The psychological challenges underlying social distancing and awareness raising. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 12(5), 508–510. https://doi.org/10.1037/tra0000815