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Side effects of work at home: Family burnout, divorce, depression

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Srinagar: When 35-year-old Rehana (name changed) got married, her husband dismissed her frequent hand washing and a rigorous dusting of the house as a fixation for cleanliness. Four years into the marriage, he got thoroughly annoyed with her compulsive tidying.

The last straw came when her husband tested positive for COVID and had to be sent into quarantine. When he returned home after testing negative, he noticed a strange behavior in her wife.


Every time he came in her close proximity, she cringed and avoided him. Consequently, it led to a severe rift in their relationship and he decided to divorce her.

“The reason for her obsession with cleanliness is Rehana’s Obsessive-Compulsive disorder, which was never addressed and had worsened because of the pandemic. So much so that she thought she would contract the virus from her husband and hence avoided him,” the mental health expert treating his wife said.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder in which a person feels the need to perform certain routines repeatedly or has certain thoughts repeatedly. A compulsive habit might be to washing hands several times after touching something that could be dirty.

“A person with severe OCD symptoms can land into double trouble given the prevailing situation when the threat of an invisible virus is all around. Neither was Rehana able to understand her behavioral issues nor did her husband empathize with her,” the doctor said.

After several months of stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many households are beginning to experience family burnout. Marital relationships have been impacted severely, with the smallest issues leading to big blow-ups.

 “Being always together in the same space, makes you notice your partner more, their small mistakes, which were never noticed before are being discussed and are causing damage,” said Dr. Yasir H Rather, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, IMHANS.

Work from home mode has added greatly to the stress at households and families. “For adults who are on ‘work from home mode’ suddenly are flooded with more responsibilities. They have no breather for self, which often leads to fatigue and irritability,” he said.

Sample this: Shaista, a 48-year-old divorcee, from Srinagar, was already battling the financial strain caused by pandemic when another challenge sprung up. Her 13-year-old son became excessively mischievous and kept on breaking things in the house.

 “She had earlier made peace with his mischief by attributing it to his age. But his constant squirming and fidgeting, excessive talking, and tendency to make extremely silly mistakes made her anxious. Moreover, with no school around,  things worsened during the lockdown,” the counselor treating her son said.

The counselor said that her son was diagnosed with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a common neurodevelopment disorder of childhood. Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors (may act without thinking about what the result will be), or be overly active.

“Her son’s heightened ADHD resulted in a severe rift in the family as her parents were quite miffed with their grandson’s behavior,” he said.

Consultant Clinical Psychologist Wasim Kakroo said this case is a classic example of the general trend being observed by mental health experts.

“Pre COVID issues, which did not get noticed before, have suddenly assumed massive proportions leading to great frustration,” he said.