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Are Mental Disorders and Privilege Mutually Exlusive?

“How can he be depressed? He has everything.”

“Oh don’t worry all this is just temporary. It will just fade away.”

“She’ll snap out of it.”

“Even I went through this. Trust me, you don’t need help. Just give it time.”

We often hear these statements when we’re talking about psychological disorders. These same questions were asked when a young, veteran actor went to heavenly abode after choosing death over his life, leaving millions of fans, friends, and family members in a state of deep shock and acute agony. However, this recent sequence of events has forced the much-needed conversations out of the box and brought them to the surface where we can dissect and understand them. It has also forced us to look beyond a person’s virtual life and seemingly “successful” phase. What might seem success to one person may not bring happiness to the one going through it. After all, appearances can be deceiving. While a lot of us may be privileged in the materialistic sense, it does not mean that we are away from the shadow of mental illnesses. Psychological disorders do not discriminate. While there may be different illnesses prevalent in different sections of the society, no section is immune to them. We must not feel guilty for going through feelings of anxiety, sadness or other negative emotions. Mental health disorders may not be a result of solely economic conditions but can be caused by a complex interaction of biological, social, environmental, cultural and economic factors.

To understand this better, we must take some time to look at some basic concepts and statistics. According to the American Psychiatric Association, mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behaviour (or a combination of these). They range from acute to recurrent to chronic, mild to severe, multiple disorders to single illness and several other scales. Descriptive analyses in a study by Luthar and D'Avanzo(1999) revealed that the mean scores of suburban youth were substantially higher than those of their inner-city counterparts and that they reported significantly higher levels of anxiety across several domains, higher substance use and greater depression.

National Mental Health Survey of India is one of the most comprehensive surveys that focus on addressing, assessing and treating these issues. Some of NMHSI, 2015-16 findings are as follows:

  • Common mental disorders (CMDs), including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders are affecting nearly 10.0% of the population. 1 in 20 people in India suffers from depression. Substance use disorders (SUDs) are prevalent in 22.4 % of the population above 18 years. The prevalence of schizophrenia and other psychoses, mood disorders and neurotic or stress-related disorders were nearly 2-3 times more in urban metros. 

  • High suicidal risk is an increasing concern in India. Nearly 1% of the population reported high suicidal risk. While half of this group reporting suicidal risk had a co-occurring mental illness, the other half did not report any comorbid mental disorder.

  • Prevalence of mental disorders in the age group 13-17 years was 7.3% and nearly equal in both genders. Nearly 9.8 million young Indians aged between 13-17 years need active interventions. Prevalence of mental disorders was nearly twice as much in urban metros as compared to rural areas. 

  • Despite prior and current efforts in enhancing mental health care delivery across the country, the study revealed that a huge treatment gap still exists for all types of mental health problems and nearly 80% of persons suffering from mental disorders, had not received any treatment despite the presence of illness for more than 12 months.

  • In a majority of the surveyed states, mental health programs and activities were fragmented, disorganized, and had a low priority during implementation. Added to this is the problem of interrupted drug supply, minimal rehabilitation programs and limited mental health research.

Moreover, the COVID-19 crisis has made the condition worse. A survey by the Indian Psychiatry Association has revealed that there has been a 20 per cent jump in cases of mental illness. Isolation, work/academic pressure, fear of losing one’s job or not being able to crack important exams, inaccessibility to support systems and help are some of the factors that can be the underlying causes of this rise. The World Health Organization has thus differentiated between the terms “social distancing” and “physical distancing” asking people to “secure physical distance between people (of at least one metre), and reduce contact with contaminated surfaces while encouraging and sustaining virtual social connection within families and communities.” WHO has also enumerated some measures that can help one cope with this ongoing crisis. These measures are:

  • Set a specific time for checking updates related to COVID-19, and limit how long you spend reading or watching them each day because excessive exposure can add to your stress/ anxiety.

  • Frontline/essential workers may face increased distress and fatigue due to the nature of their job. If you are one of them, talk to your supervisor and make provisions for adequate rest.

  • People diagnosed with COVID-19 are likely to feel alone in hospitals/self-isolation. Make sure that they stay connected to their families and loved ones via video call, messages etc.

  • Feeling low can make you withdraw from your usual activities and create a cycle of inability over time. Try to keep yourself and others motivated to continue doing the activities that they enjoy as it can help improve your mental health.

We have to realize that some amount of stress and anxiety is normal at this time. However, it is important to share your feelings with your loved ones and keep them in the loop with your emotions. Any time you feel that your symptoms are hampering your daily functioning or that you’re unable to control them, seek professional help immediately. Your mental health is as important as your physical health. Just like you seek help when you get hurt physically, it is important to seek help when your mental health is deteriorating.

If you are feeling distressed or want to talk to someone, drop a WhatsApp message/call us on 7707070002 or email us at covid19helplineindia@gmail.com . It is a completely free and confidential service.

By - Shraddha Khurana Graphic By - Gayathri Nair

#mentalhealth #researchbased #positivity

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