Anna Liminowicz - photographer and reportage author based in Warsaw, Poland. A contributor to The New York Times, she works with Der Spiegel, NRC, Die Welt, The Globe and Mail, Les Echos and many others. She divides her work between...
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The pandemic caused by COVID-19 continues and although we are experiencing significant loosening in public spaces mental health problems are on the rise. The pandemic is making it harder for people to seek personal treatment and counselling. Therapies have moved online and the income gap is widening between those who can afford private treatment and those who are condemned to wait in queues for months to receive National Health Service treatment.
Poland ranks 2nd in Europe in terms of suicides under the age of 19 - one school disappears every year. Child and adolescent wards in psychiatric hospitals are overcrowded, and mental crises are still a taboo subject.
Virus of fear is a photographic document showing how COVID-19 affects the mental health of people in Poland. It includes interviews with people who speak openly about how the virus has caused or exacerbated depression and anxiety. These are meetings with specialists who tell how treatment has changed, but also how the pandemic has affected their mental health.
Patrycja has been undergoing psychiatric treatment for four years, and has been in therapy for two years. Since she started working, she devotes part of her income to private treatment because the public system has failed her.
During the pandemic, her anorexia worsened, panic attacks on public transport returned, and she had panic attacks at home, which she had never had before.
Kaj and Zosia ( high school students ) They are a couple. The pandemic and isolation has loosened the connection between their friends. They feel they have been left alone. They call themselves the depression generation, and self-mutilation among schoolmates is a common occurrence. If someone has their wrists covered with long sleeves, they guess why. Kaj asked his mother to sign him up for an appointment with a psychologist. Warsaw,March 2021
Pawel He got ill with depression six years ago and was treated for a year and a half. After six months he had a slight relapse, but he learned to catch the symptoms and respond quickly to them. In the pandemic his colleague died of Covid, Paweł became ill shortly afterwards and noticed that his illness was progressing in similar stages to his colleague.
Paweł- I had panic attacks, severe night wakings and already knew that depression had come again. I immediately contacted my psychiatrist and she sad- you are already a veteran depressive- and comforted me that it is after Covid depression, which is cured very quickly, provided there is also a quick response to the symptoms. Paweł has decided to tell his friends about his depression, although he often hears advice that it's enough to get down to work, but he still talks and always advises them - If it gets you down, go to the doctor. At work, only a few colleagues know about his depression, Pawel is afraid that this disease will not be tolerated by his superiors. Warsaw, February, 2021
I am more afraid. A person close to me is a bone marrow transplant recipient and has bad lungs. If I behave irresponsibly, or anyone in the family, we could kill him. Meanwhile, my eldest 10-year-old son is afraid for me. This appeared in him when my husband separated from me. The son has taken over the responsibility. I try to relieve him of it, but it is difficult. After I separated from my husband I had expectations of myself that I would cope because I am a strong woman, I have a job, passion, family, friends and lots of support from them. I was already doing well in therapy, in March I thought another six months and I was on the right track. A week later came the pandemic. Insomnia again, losing weight. It goes to show that earned strength is sensitive to other factors. That's when I invented fairy tales. Every day at nine o'clock, for twenty minutes, I tell impromptu stories to children over the internet. Sometimes I force myself to be in a good mood because I pretend to be a rapping badger or an ice cube that dissolves in lemonade. If I fool around for twenty minutes, the good mood stays for longer and I know someone is waiting for me with the next story.
I have been suffering from Lesniowski - Crohn's disease for twenty years and steroids, chemotherapy, biological treatment are not alien to me. I have learned to live with it. My in-laws, doctors, live in France and they are just waiting when they can visit their grandchildren. I ask them that maybe after the holidays. I understand my in-laws that they want to be close to us, five years ago my husband died and since then they have been coming to visit us every month. They have a strong need to look after me and I explain to them that now this care is about them not coming. But what hurts me the most is that I am afraid of my mother. She is a nurse in the hospital. At that worst time, when we had to be at home, she, leaving work felt a strong need to be with us and without warning brought shopping. With tears in my eyes, I did not allow her to enter the flat.
Roksana ( 13 years old ) She has self-harmed several times, including once in a pandemic. In three months, she will have her first visit to a child psychiatrist in Lomza (140 km from her place of residence). The closest child psychiatrist is in Gizycko (20 km from her place of residence), but the waiting period for an appointment is min. half a year.
Roksana lives in one room with her parents and 3 younger sisters. At home, she cannot focus on studying, behind the wall she often hears screams and quarrels from neighbors. There used to be frequent police interventions.
Before the pandemic, she liked physical education lessons at school the most, it relieved her of stress.
When Roksana felt unwell again, she called the Helpline for children and young people. After talking to a consultant, she decided to tell her parents about her troubles.
Roksana's mother is looking forward to her daughter's visit to a psychiatrist, but at the urging of family and friends, her mother decided to have Roksana meet with an exorcist priest before visiting a psychiatrist.
Tomas Bilicki- Crisis Intervention Centre for Youth RE-START in Lodz.
In the pandemic, the crisis is experienced by healthy and sick people. Healthy people - they have never used the help of a psychologist or psychotherapist and such people come to me because isolation, broken friendships, uncertainty have damaged their mental health. People who have experienced disorders react with escalation of their illnesses, they return to self-mutilation, which often causes tension reduction, to suicidal thoughts, to planning death.
In my work with teachers I often encounter the stereotype that a person who has mental problems is isolated and this has consequences that they don't notice students who need help, because I hear from teachers - after all they are joking in class - but it doesn't mean anything, they are masking the suffering.
I have a patient who has a fantastic sense of humour, he shows me memes, tells me jokes, we laugh together and at the same time we talk about the fact that he doesn't want to live and is planning to die.
This cocktail on the wall was also painted by a girl who doesn't want to live.
Zuzia She was an exemplary pupil, during the pandemic her motivation to learn dropped. She does not have a desk, a desktop computer or a laptop. Before the pandemic, she often attended pedagogical meetings at school, but now her opportunities are limited.
( picture: Online physical education lesson. Teacher explains what a penalty kicks is.)
He has noticed that he has nervous tics - moves his legs excessively during lessons online - he tries to help himself, usually looking for advice on the internet. What helps him most is playing imaginative games - he builds different worlds and travels through them. This is his escape from being locked up at home and isolated from his peers.
Kamila works in the hotel industry, in the pandemic she lost her part-time job and thus her financial independence. Sewing dolls and gnomes used to be her passion, now she sews them to order, which is not always associated with satisfaction. Sewing in the pandemic gives her the feeling that she still has control over something.
My fear mixed with fury as I saw that fewer and fewer people keep their distance and fewer and fewer wear masks. Once I went with my wife to a furniture shop and had a panic attack. Everyone was too close to me, I felt they were looking at me like an alien. I barricaded myself with a pram, my wife saw my reaction and took me home. At my ophthalmologist's, who looked like Sigma from the Matplanet's Invaders", because she approached me in a protective outfit designed for infec- tious wards, I felt the safest. She took care of my fear. I did not feel crazy.
I liked the time when I came inside a shop and s manager stood at the entrance, controlled the number of people inside, did not allow to enter without a mask. If there comes a second wave of pandemics and restrictions, I will breathe. I will be less afraid.
Iwona Rosa- headmistress of high school in Gizycko
Iwona Rosa guesses that there is depression among the teaching staff and this is a difficult situation for her, but she also does not know how to help them. She often tells them: Let the students go, results are not the most important thing right now.
Before pandemic, Marta was feeling mentally unwell - emotional disorder with issues that had been unresolved for years, such as divorce, job change and relocation, six years of failed relationship problems - all of which resulted in her receiving psychiatric treatment from February 2020. In March 2020, when the government introduced national quarantine, Marta lost part of her job and part of her salary. She had a mental breakdown. The psychiatrist gave her medication, a 3 month leave from work and a recommendation for therapy.
Marta:-The pandemic helped me, it quickened the process. I had time to take care of my personal life. I met boyfriend through the internet, today it's been 9 months since we've been together and I've moved into a flat together.
Aurelia Jankowska - coordinator of The Children's Aid Centre with his son. ( We Give Children Strength Foundation )
In the pandemic as a team we experienced a crisis. Before the pandemic the therapists, after consulting with clients, would talk to each other in real time about what had happened that was difficult in the session, to get the burden of talking off each other-this was the normal situation, and when working remotely from home, the therapists were left alone with this. Every Wednesday we have a team meeting and during the face-to-face meetings we could disagree with each other, but we could see each other's faces, express our emotions, and this already seemed difficult to us, but it was only the online meetings that showed us that these were extremely taxing experiences. It generates tension and hits relationships.
The foundation's board gave permission for unlimited supervision, both in terms of client work and personally.
My mental health was saved by the adaptation and renovation of another floor of the Centre, because I came to work every day to supervise the renovation.
Helpline consultant for children and young people (she works from home during pandemics )
When the pandemic started, I felt fears, family and friends told me - You have to go to a psychiatrist - and I replied - and what will it do for me?
The psychiatrist diagnosed generalised fear disorder, a basic type of fears. This experience has brought me closer to the young people I talk to on the Helpline, because I often say to them - Go to a psychiatrist, it will bring you relief - and they reply - but it won't change anything.
I have these conversations with them every day and to top it off they have to face the fact that their families are not well disposed towards psychiatric treatment.
Helpline consultant for children and young people (works from home during the pandemic)
My greatest satisfaction in my work is when a child writes a letter to his/her parents during a conversation, or when she/he decides to tell parents about the conversation. Then I have the feeling that the child finds strength in herself/ himself.
Calling the police for an intervention is not difficult.
Anna Szczepaniak - psychologist, psychotherapist, in the children's therapyroom at the Child and Family Center ( We Give Children Strength Foundation )
The biggest problem in online therapy is when children disappear under the table with their computer on it, or they close the laptop and I disappear. In that situation, I call their parents and we look for a solution.
The sandbox loved by children in online therapy is downright impossible to work with because the child really wants to touch it and is jealous that I do. It is a game about sifting out what is important and what is difficult, combing through the thick and thin of things. The monsters in the sandboxes symbolise different characters in their lives, they are herbivorous, carnivorous, the children assign these roles to their stories, so the theme of sifting is crucial in any therapy with a child.
When playing surgery, it's laying out the internal organs together with the child. I arrange and name the child's inner world, that it is the stomach, the kidneys, the heart which is so precious and important, but you can't get to the head, the only way to help the head is to talk and name what it is experiencing. Just as I sort out the belly of the doll, I sort out the emotions of the child by naming them.
Krzysztof Sarzala - coordinator of The Children's Aid Centre.
Krzysztof Sarzala:- The pandemic and the isolation have not created new risks, but have brought out the ones that previously troubled us. It is as if the institutions have given themselves permission to do less, to be less involved, and the children will suffer because they are waiting a year to be examined by an expert psychologist and to be heard by the courts. During the pandemic, the judges stopped coming to the Centre for hearings, even though we keep inviting them. I am very worried about it, because the hearings here are much better than in court, our room is specially prepared not to make the child feel threatened, and even if the court had a similar room, cosily furnished, one enters the court building through gates with security, which makes the atmosphere of the meeting difficult to bear for the child, and this affects the effectiveness of the hearing. A frightened, depressed child cannot give such testimony as he or she could give in a friendly, safe atmosphere. There was a time when, together with prosecutors from Gdansk, we organised a week of assistance to victims of crime, and these were nice events where prosecutors came to the Centre for duty, talked to parents, gave advice, but that was in a different political era. Today there is a wall between us, we have no contact. They don't respond to our invitations.
As long as there is no hearing of the child, we as The Children's Aid Centre have our hands tied - if we provide permanent help to the child, therapeutic support, and the child would be before the judge's hearing, we do harm to the child, because the child will stand before the court, and the judge will say - but this child went to a psychologist, and I don't know what the psychologist talked about with this child - We often have dilemmas about what to do, on the one hand we see that the child needs immediate help, and the procedures will be lengthy before the hearing takes place.
How do we weigh up what is more important - the correctness of the proceedings and the judge's feeling that he or she has objective information, or the immediate protection of the child, who may kill himself or herself because he or she cannot wait for the end of his or her case?
The interview room for children and young people in We Give Children Strength Foundation.
( We Give Children Strength Foundation- Poland's largest non-governmental organisation, which protects children from abuse and helps those who have experienced psychological, physical and sexual violence. It supports parents and carers in developing their parenting and educational skills.The Foundation also runs a helpline for children and young people.)