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      Affective-Semiotic Dynamics of the Transition to Motherhood in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic


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          Abstract. The transition to motherhood is an important moment in the life course, in which symbolic interactive dynamics are established between self, other, and world to overcome developmental challenges. However, these challenges are intensified with the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused a radical and unexpected rupture in daily life. This article aims to analyze the affective-semiotic dynamics of Brazilian women who experienced the transition to motherhood during the COVID-19 pandemic from a qualitative multiple case study. Eight women participated in the study in the city of Salvador. Data were collected from two narrative interviews with each participant conducted through videoconference, with a 2-month interval between interviews. The main finding reveals that the emergence of the pandemic was described by the participants as an unexpected and significant rupture in the transition to motherhood that raised feelings of fear and anxiety. In addition, I–other relations were marked by intense ambivalence between the need for social support and the risk of contagion, and the perspective and experience of childbirth were marked by a feeling of insecurity in the relations with the health personnel and settings. In light of Semiotic Cultural Psychology, three interdependent affective-semiotic fields were highlighted from the narratives: the perception of oneself regulated by the sign of vulnerability, the other regulated by the sign of a potential threat, and healthcare provision regulated by the sign of risk. These findings highlight the importance of quality healthcare that helps women to reduce the disruptive impact of the pandemic on the ontogenetic structure of psychological organization.

          Impact and Implications.

          The article analyzes the main challenges faced by women in the transition to motherhood in the Brazilian context during the COVID-19 pandemic. The participants' narratives reveal aspects related to gender roles, such as perceived personal vulnerability, burden with child and home care, and helplessness in relation to social support and health care. From its reflections it aims to promote gender equality and female empowerment (UN's sustainable development goal, SDG #5 – gender equality), as well as the reduction of social inequalities (SDG #10 – reduced inequalities).

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          Most cited references19

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          The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence

          Summary The December, 2019 coronavirus disease outbreak has seen many countries ask people who have potentially come into contact with the infection to isolate themselves at home or in a dedicated quarantine facility. Decisions on how to apply quarantine should be based on the best available evidence. We did a Review of the psychological impact of quarantine using three electronic databases. Of 3166 papers found, 24 are included in this Review. Most reviewed studies reported negative psychological effects including post-traumatic stress symptoms, confusion, and anger. Stressors included longer quarantine duration, infection fears, frustration, boredom, inadequate supplies, inadequate information, financial loss, and stigma. Some researchers have suggested long-lasting effects. In situations where quarantine is deemed necessary, officials should quarantine individuals for no longer than required, provide clear rationale for quarantine and information about protocols, and ensure sufficient supplies are provided. Appeals to altruism by reminding the public about the benefits of quarantine to wider society can be favourable.
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            Is Open Access

            “Pandemic fear” and COVID-19: mental health burden and strategies

            In the wake of the September 11 attack in the United States and the Kiss Nightclub fire in Brazil, psychological assistance task forces for victims and their families were quickly organized. However, during pandemics it is common for health professionals, scientists and managers to focus predominantly on the pathogen and the biological risk in an effort to understand the pathophysiological mechanisms involved and propose measures for preventing, containing and treating the disease. In such situations, the psychological and psychiatric implications secondary to the phenomenon, both on an individual and a collective level, tend to be underestimated and neglected, generating gaps in coping strategies and increasing the burden of associated diseases.1,2 Although infectious diseases have emerged at various times in history, in recent years, globalization has facilitated the spread of pathological agents, resulting in worldwide pandemics. This has added greater complexity to the containment of infections, which has had an important political, economic and psychosocial impact, leading to urgent public health challenges.2-6 HIV, Ebola, Zika and H1N1, among other diseases, are recent examples.1 The coronavirus (COVID-19), identified in China at the end of 2019, has a high contagion potential, and its incidence has increased exponentially. Its widespread transmission was recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a pandemic. Dubious or even false information about factors related to virus transmission, the incubation period, its geographic reach, the number of infected, and the actual mortality rate has led to insecurity and fear in the population. The situation has been exacerbated due to the insufficient control measures and a lack of effective therapeutic mechanisms.5,7,8 These uncertainties have had consequences in a number of sectors, with direct implications for the population’s daily life and mental health. This scenario raises a number of questions: is there a fear/stress pandemic concomitant with the COVID-19 pandemic? How can we evaluate this phenomenon? To understand the psychological and psychiatric repercussions of a pandemic, the emotions involved in it, such as fear and anger, must be considered and observed. Fear is an adaptive animal defense mechanism that is fundamental for survival and involves several biological processes of preparation for a response to potentially threatening events. However, when it is chronic or disproportionate, it becomes harmful and can be a key component in the development of various psychiatric disorders.9,10 In a pandemic, fear increases anxiety and stress levels in healthy individuals and intensifies the symptoms of those with pre-existing psychiatric disorders.11 During epidemics, the number of people whose mental health is affected tends to be greater than the number of people affected by the infection.12 Past tragedies have shown that the mental health implications can last longer and have greater prevalence than the epidemic itself and that the psychosocial and economic impacts can be incalculable if we consider their resonance in different contexts.11,12 Since the economic costs associated with mental disorders is high, improving mental health treatment strategies can lead to gains in both physical health and the economic sector. In addition to a concrete fear of death, the COVID-19 pandemic has implications for other spheres: family organization, closings of schools, companies and public places, changes in work routines, isolation, leading to feelings of helplessness and abandonment. Moreover, it can heighten insecurity due to the economic and social repercussions of this large-scale tragedy. During the Ebola outbreak, for example, fear-related behaviors had an epidemiological impact both individually and collectively during all phases of the event, increasing the suffering and psychiatric symptom rates of the population, which contributed to increases in indirect mortality from causes other than Ebola.13 Currently, ease of access to communication technologies and the transmission of sensational, inaccurate or false information can increase harmful social reactions, such as anger and aggressive behavior.14 Diagnostic, tracking, monitoring and containment measures for COVID-19 have been established in several countries.6 However, there are still no accurate epidemiological data on disease-related psychiatric implications or their impact on public health. A Chinese study provided some insights in this regard. Approximately half of the interviewees classified the psychological impact of the epidemic as moderate to severe, and about a third reported moderate to severe anxiety.15 Similar data have been reported in Japan, where the economic impact has also been dramatic.11 Another study reported that patients infected with COVID-19 (or suspected of being infected) may experience intense emotional and behavioral reactions, such as fear, boredom, loneliness, anxiety, insomnia or anger,11 as has been reported about similar situations in the past.16 Such conditions can evolve into disorders, whether depressive, anxiety (including panic attacks and post-traumatic stress), psychotic or paranoid, and can even lead to suicide.17,18 These conditions can be especially prevalent in quarantined patients, whose psychological distress tends to be higher.16 In some cases, uncertainty about infection and death or about infecting family and friends can potentiate dysphoric mental states.11,18 Even among patients with common flu symptoms, stress and fear due to the similarity of the conditions can generate mental distress and worsen psychiatric symptoms.15,19 Despite the fact that the rate of confirmed vs. suspected cases of COVID-19 is relatively low and that the majority of cases are considered asymptomatic or mild, as well as that the disease has a relatively low mortality rate,20,21 the psychiatric implications can be significantly high, overloading emergency services and the health system as a whole. In conjunction with actions to help infected and quarantined patients, strategies targeting the general population and specific groups must be developed, including health professionals who are directly exposed to the pathogen and have high stress rates.22 Although some protocols for clinicians have been established, most health professionals who work in isolation units and hospitals are neither trained to provide mental health assistance during pandemics1,17 nor receive specialized care. Previous studies have reported high rates of anxiety and stress symptoms, as well as mental disorders, such as post-traumatic stress, in this population (especially among nurses and doctors), which reinforces the need for care.22,23 Other specific groups are especially vulnerable in pandemics: older adults, the immunocompromised, patients with previous clinical and psychiatric conditions, family members of infected patients and residents of high-incidence areas. In these groups, social rejection, discrimination, and even xenophobia are frequent.17 Providing psychological first aid is an essential care component for populations that have been victims of emergencies and disasters, but there are no universal protocols or guidelines for the most effective psychosocial support practices.24 Although some reports on local mental health care strategies have been published, more comprehensive emergency guidelines for such scenarios are unknown,1,17,19 since previous evidence refers only to specific situations.24 In Brazil, a large developing country with pronounced social disparity, low education levels and humanitarian-cooperative culture, there are no parameters for estimating the impact of this phenomenon on the population’s mental health or behavior. Will it be possible to implement effective preventive and emergency actions aimed at the psychiatric implications of this biological pandemic in broad spheres of society? Specifically for this new COVID-19 scenario, Xiang et al., suggest that three main factors should be considered when developing mental health strategies: 1) multidisciplinary mental health teams (including psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, clinical psychologists and other mental health professionals); 2) clear communication involving regular, accurate updates on the COVID-19 outbreak; and 3) establishing safe psychological counseling services (for example, via electronic devices or apps).17 Finally, it is extremely necessary to implement public mental health policies in conjunction with epidemic and pandemic response strategies before, during and after the event.13 Mental health professionals, such as psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers, must be on the front line and play a leading role in emergency planning and management teams.1 Assistance protocols, such as those used in disaster situations, should cover areas relevant to the individual and collective mental health of the population. Recently, the WHO25 and the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention26 published a series of psychosocial and mental health recommendations, several of which are included in Box 1. This is in line with longitudinal data from the WHO demonstrating that psychological factors are directly related to the main causes of morbidity and mortality in the world.25 Thus, increased investment in research and strategic actions for mental health in parallel with infectious outbreaks is urgently needed worldwide.1 Disclosure The authors report no conflicts of interest.
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              The tragedy of COVID‐19 in Brazil: 124 maternal deaths and counting

              At the time of writing 124 pregnant or postpartum women in Brazil have died due to COVID‐19 (representing a mortality rate of 12.7%), a figure that currently surpasses the total number of COVID‐19‐related maternal deaths reported throughout the rest of the world.

                Author and article information

                International Perspectives in Psychology
                Research, Practice, Consultation
                Hogrefe Publishing
                August 4, 2021
                July 2021
                : 10
                : 3 , Special Issue: Women During COVID-19
                : 147-154
                [ 1 ]Institute of Psychology, Federal University of Bahia (UFBA), Salvador, Brazil
                Author notes
                Vívian Volkmer Pontes, Postgraduate Program in Psychology (PPGPSI), Universidade Federal da Bahia, Salvador, Bahia, 40210‐630, Brazil, vvolkmer@ 123456yahoo.com.br
                Author information
                Copyright @ 2021
                : January 15, 2021
                : June 11, 2021
                : June 15, 2021

                Sociology,Assessment, Evaluation & Research methods,Political science,Psychology,General behavioral science,Public health
                cultural psychology of semiotic dynamics,transition to motherhood,COVID‐19 pandemic,case study,Brazilian context


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