The Unprecedented Times: Malvikha Manoj

2020 has been anything but expected. Back in the day, (aka March!) when the pandemic was first announced, many countries closed down their borders immediately. The UAE, my home country, was one of them. I was in a limbo for a while, going back and forth between moments of hope when the border would open temporarily, just to be shut back down quickly thereafter. This took a toll on me — emotionally and mentally. As a mental health ally and student, I recognized some of my symptoms: my appetite was falling; I spent a lot of time in my room – isolated and secluded; I slept a lot, or not at all; and what initially started as a joke, ended up being worrisome, when my daily breakfast included just ice cream and cheetos. One of my friends, recognizing that I was struggling, sent me a box of succulents as a surprise pick-me-up, knowing how much I love and enjoy plants. Getting this in the mail was such a beautiful and lovely surprise and made me realize that amidst all the isolation and seclusion that the pandemic brought with it, there were people in my corner to love and take care of me. As the pandemic reaches its 8th month, our mental health and well-being is continuing to be tested due to COVID-19 itself, but also due to all the catastrophes it brought with it.

My hope for the rest of this year, and for the next, is that despite all that’s going on around us, we can tap into our collective humanities to support each other, and to take care of our own mental health and wellbeing as much as is possible. No one person can get through this alone.

As an emerging public health professional, this pandemic has been a lesson on the ground like no other. I hope that we use this moment of opportunity to redefine, reimagine and strengthen our health systems, and to ask more from the leadership that governs it all. Public health issues like emerging infectious diseases, mental health crisis, climate change, housing crisis, structural violence, systemic racism, etc. do not exist in a vacuum. My hope is that the future of public health involves a concerted effort to integrate and strengthen the health system as one, and not as different siloed pieces, and that the voices from the global north AND the south are given equal weight and empowered representation at decision making tables.

Malvikha Manoj, AMR

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