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ARGENTINA | 04-07-2020 08:57

Anxiety and anguish in Buenos Aires as lockdown returns

The Buenos Aires metropolitan area returned to a strict quarantine this week and many citizens are growing increasingly uncomfortable.

Anxiety, anguish and depression are impacting Buenos Aires in the face of one of the world’s longest lockdowns to tackle an exponential increase in the number of coronavirus cases.

The pandemic could not have come at a worse time for Argentina. Already suffering from two years of recession, the economy collapsed 26.4 percent in April, data showed this week.

"Today I exploded and decided to frantically clean! And I turned round and hit my face against a door. I keep stepping deeper and deeper," María, a 42-year-old teacher, wrote in frustration on a WhatsApp group with her friends. 

In the same group, Lidia, who lives alone, announces: "I'm going to sink a wine right now."

"I want to catch Covid so I don't have to touch my computer anymore," says Graciela, a preschool teacher whose hours are taken up by Zoom calls with toddlers, anxious parents, and her superiors.

Life passes by as a parenthesis imposed by the quarantine that started in Argentina on March 20 and was hardened from July 1 in Buenos Aires and its surroundings. To date, the region has recorded more than 90 percent of the more than 69,000 cases and 1,400 deaths in Argentina.

"It is very difficult to separate the effect of confinement from that of the economic crisis and other uncertainties, such as unemployment," says psychologist Alicia Stolkiner, a professor of Public Health and Mental Health at the University of Buenos Aires and the University of Lanús.

After 100 days of confinement, the public’s mood is dropping, according to a study from the National University of La Matanza (UNML), carried out between June 27 and 29 in Buenos Aires and its periphery. 

In a country famous for having close to 200 psychologists for every 100,000 inhabitants, the survey revealed that 43.8 percent of those surveyed said they needed psychological attention due to sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, anguish and emotional instability they have experienced during the pandemic. They also point out that resistance to the quarantine is crystallising, as is a feeling of loneliness and suicidal thoughts.

Psychologists are holding virtual sessions. Therapists' associations offer free care and free ear. Calls to the national suicide hotline doubled.

At the end of March, 80.7 percent said their mood was good or very good, while only 5.2 percent said they felt bad or very bad. Now, the rates are at 39.5 percent and 34.4 percent respectively.

"The consultations are diverse but they coincide in anguish, depression, sleep disorders to insomnia," says Claudia Borensztejn, a doctor and president of the Argentine Psychoanalytic Association (APA).

Nevertheless, 53.5% of respondents said they supported the extension of the lockdown until July 17, convinced that the measure "saves lives," as President Alberto Fernández has consistently reiterated. 

Contact is missed keenly. In a country that makes a cult of friendship and family ties, "what is most missed is the abrazo. Despite having technology, physical contact is missed, sitting next to each other is missed," says Esteban Korovsky, a 30-year-old industrial engineer.

"Anguish is not always a disease,” said Stolkiner. “How can a person not be distressed if they have the feeling of mourning, of loss? How can they not perceive uncertainty, if there is a loss of certainty about planning the future, if it is known that nothing will ever be the way it was?”

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by Liliana Samuel, AFP

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