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How Covid-19 Is Also A Mental Health Crisis

The world is not only brawling with the angst of the deadly virus but also another challenge, of the mental health crisis. If neglected, the post- COVID-19 world will be overshadowed by this crisis that is going to linger for the years to come. Realising the urgency of the issue of mental health WHO, in March 2020, laid down guidelines for dealing with the psychological impacts of the pandemic.

The frontline workers, doctors, nurses and helping staff are at a greater risk than all of us. Millions of doctors are reporting higher levels of stress and anxiety and are also being diagnosed with insomnia and depression. Being at the frontline means being at the foremost risk of catching the virus. Constantly seeing hundreds of deaths in the hospitals and hearing the whalings of the aggrieved family members is a disturbing experience. These people might face stigmatization in their residential places and also have to stay away from their family members- which takes away their only source of hope and emotional support. Hence, it is imperative to provide them with the psychological support they need. In the United States, two Emergency Ward workers committed suicide after it became unbearable to deal with the overburdening stress. A study conducted in China during its Coronavirus peak surveyed 1,257 doctors and nurses, found that half of them had reported depression, 45 per cent anxiety and 34 per cent insomnia.

According to various other reports published by several non-profit-organisations and research centres, higher cases of mental illness like anxiety and depression are also being reported in the general population. The entire world being battened to the hatches of their homes has expounded higher levels of stress. The younger population is obfuscated and despaired, many are worried about losing their family members and some are exhausted with the disordered lifestyle. Post- traumatic stress disorder cases are also bound to inflate, in any macro-level calamity like this. If these cases aren’t identified and provided with the precise treatment, it is going to leave a debilitated and confused lot struggling to mend their lives from scratch. Hence, along with the strategies to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, an equal emphasis should also be laid on mental health by governments all over the world.

Mental health, however, remains a privilege for few, and a wider section of society goes undiagnosed and untreated. “That’s what is keeping me up at night,” Susan Borja, a lead traumatic stress researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health (USA), told Washington post. “I worry about the people the system just won’t absorb or won’t reach. I worry about the suffering that’s going to go untreated on such a large scale.” The most vulnerable of them are those ranked lowest in the socio-economic hierarchy, who have lost their livelihoods and are left to succumb to the bare minimum. For them, the situation is going to be more traumatic than any of those sitting comfortably at our homes. According to Meadows, if unemployment rises by 20 percentage points, suicide cases could increase by 18,000 and overdose deaths by more than 22,000 (comparing with the data recorded during the 1930s Great Depression).

It is absolutely a frenzied time, where everything is uncertain- the movement is restricted; commerce, education and other social activities have come to a halt; the underlying fear of getting infected has eaten up inner peace; domestic violence cases have risen; - all leading to a state of emotional burnout and devastation. Nelson Vinod Moses, a leading suicide prevention advocate in India says, “At-risk populations include the 150 million with pre-existing mental health issues, Covid-19 survivors, frontline medical workers, young people, differently- abled people, women, workers in the unorganized sector, and the elderly..”

Alarmingly, the mental health crisis is walking parallel to COVID-19. “To control the virus, it’s all about testing, testing, testing. And for the mental health problems ahead, it’s going to be all about screening, screening, screening,” said Gionfriddo of Mental Health America. The situation is not absolutely out of our control. The situation could be mitigated with proper strategies deployed in the right direction with the right kind of objectives. But the larger question remains for us- Is India prepared for such a crisis? A report published in The Print says otherwise.

Neither can India’s formal mental health system, which has a limited number of specialists; 9,000 psychiatrists for 1.3 billion people. Shekar Saxena, former director of the WHO’s Mental Health Division, has said: “Mental health systems have always been very scanty in India and during this time, the gap between what is needed and what is available has widened markedly.”

While several councilors and therapists are tirelessly providing online mental support to people, it still needs to be proliferated at a higher level. The only thing we can do to mitigate the issue is to call the shots with whatever resources are available at our disposal. The suggestions from ‘We Forum Organization’ include redressing historic under-investment in psychological services, providing “emergency mental health” via remote therapies such as tele-counselling for frontline health workers, and working proactively with people known to have depression and anxiety, and with those at high risk of domestic violence and acute impoverishment. Many organizations, like us, are also providing Pro Bono mental health support.

By - Sanjana Nagar Graphic by - Brijesh Kumar

#covidinfo #mentalhealth #reserarchbased #healthandfitness

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