What Comes Next? The Mental Health Challenge Awaiting Us Post Pandemic

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

What comes next?

That seems to be the one question on everybody’s mind. The start of 2020 has been rough to say the least, with the world grinding to a halt to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. Along with basic hygiene practices, social distancing has been identified as one of the key strategies in the fight to ‘flatten the curve’. For countries across the world, this has meant imposing some form of lockdown, restricting the movement of its people and asking them to shelter in place in the hopes that the spread of the very contagious virus would slow down enough to allow healthcare systems to keep up.

In India, social distancing came in the form of the world’s biggest lockdown on 24th March, essentially requiring 1.3 billion individuals to stop their everyday living. The fourth extension of the lockdown will last till 31st May, but considerable relaxations have been put into place, primarily with concern to the impact the lockdown has had on the economy.

What the lockdown and the raging pandemic means for the economy is still being unravelled by the experts. But for the country and its citizens, another storm has been brewing.

A survey conducted by the Indian Psychiatry Society reported that cases of mental health issues went up by 20% within the first week of lockdown. The World Economic Forum now predicts a massive mental health crisis for the country, spurred by unemployment, financial strains, domestic violence, substance abuse, and many other overlapping causes. The crisis will impact the poor and the marginalized the most – those who are unfortunately often the worst placed for accessing mental health resources in the first place. Other vulnerable groups, including Covid-19 survivors, caregivers, women, and the elderly have also been highlighted. Indeed, surviving the physical ordeal of coronavirus is often accompanied by symptoms of PTSD, including chronic fear and avoidance. The fact that coronavirus necessitates that those ill fight their battles alone (to prevent infecting their loved ones) removes the critical component of social support so important to wellbeing, and can leave individuals more vulnerable to mental health problems.

You don’t have to have the physical or even economic problems however, to face the mental strain of the pandemic and lockdown. Uncertainty, loneliness, lack of routine, and social isolation has led to many Indians searching for stress and therapy, with Google Trends data revealing that these searches are higher for the country as compared to the rest of the world. The University of Delhi’s online counselling service has also revealed the troubling toll on students, whose anxieties are centred on the uncertainty the future holds.

Clearly, we are all struggling, and this problem will likely come in waves. The question that needs to be asked is – can we be prepared for what comes next?

The answer lies not only with global and state agencies and the already strained healthcare system. A large part of it lies with us too. Now more than ever is the time to give mental health the importance it deserves, and to recognize that mental health at and individual and collective level is just as important for our wellbeing and happiness as our physical health. Now is the time to de-stigmatize mental health problems, and recognize that under certain negative conditions, any of us can feel the blues. Now is the time to demand and built community infrastructure for mental health, one that can not only help us all post the pandemic, but be there permanently for those who need it. And now is the time to learn and teach the best of Psychology, including resilience, optimism, hope, and positive thinking.

A crisis is coming, and it will certainly be a challenge. But there is no reason why we cannot overcome it together. Reach out to those who need help, volunteer, learn, and spread awareness.

And if you or a loved one is facing mental health issues due to the pandemic, we are here to help you at covid19helplineindia.com and at 7707070002.

By – Niharika Rawat Artwork by – Brijesh Kumar

#mentalhealth #socialisolation #quarantine

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