How the pandemic has exacerbated the Mental health condition of Indians
by Johnson Thomas, Director of Aasra- an Internationally renowned NGO located in Mumbai, working in the field of crisis intervention and areas of emotional and mental health :
Current ongoing research has revealed evidence that COVID-19 pandemic has had profound psychological and social effects which is expected to last for months, if not years ( and depends entirely on how well we are able to manage the pandemic). The psychological ill effects on the population include increasing distress, anxiety, fear of contagion, depression and insomnia. Unplanned Lockdowns have increased the levels of social isolation, uncertainty, chronic stress and economic difficulties and this could well lead to depression, frequent anxiety attacks, increased instances of substance abuse, domestic violence, suicidal events and other psychiatric disorders in the vulnerable populations as well as healthcare professionals. Stress-related psychiatric conditions including mood and substance use disorders are associated with suicidal behaviour. COVID-19 has taken many lives and even its survivors may be at an elevated suicide risk. The COVID-19 crisis has also increased suicide rates during the first two waves and people could well be vulnerable even after the pandemic. Hence Mental health issues and suicidal behaviour are likely to be prevalent for a long time. To reduce suicides during the COVID-19 crisis, it is imperative to decrease stress, anxiety, fears and loneliness in the general population. The Government must play the leading role in not only encouraging citizens to avail of available professional help but also increase its investment in developing mental health infrastructure throughout the country. There should be traditional and social media campaigns to promote mental health and reduce distress. Active outreach is necessary, especially for people with a history of psychiatric disorders, COVID-19 survivors and older adults. There must also be an increased allocation of funds into research on mental health consequences and how these can be offset by a well-co-ordinated and organised Mental Health and Suicide Prevention strategy in order to bring the affected population back from the brink.
NGO's can’t do everything. They can provide food, mental health support, help strengthen communities but they cannot be a crutch for a system that fails to take care of its own. Their services are mainly concentrated around offering support in a welfare state. NGOs have limited resources and the problem of mental health needs strong institutional, corporate and governmental efforts. Mental health issues are increasing at a pace that NGOs alone can't manage. The post pandemic world has thrown up even more mental health challenges. So unless concerted efforts from the Top are forthcoming we are going to live in a world where an unmanageable number of people are going to be affected.
One thing I can share is that the profile of the caller has changed since the pandemic. Earlier we had a lot more students and young adults battling depression and suicidal ideation due to peer pressure, exams, results, broken romances or relationship problems. But now we get calls from people of all age groups struggling with survival/existential issues ; Unemployment, loss of jobs and income, huge unpayable debts, inability to provide food or shelter for their loved ones. The current economic climate has driven the marginalized, the middle class and in some cases, even the so called rich into crisis after crisis from which they see no way out. In order to augment their losses a large number of young people even fall prey to online scams –be it betting apps or other forms of online lures amounting to frauds.
Most suicide prevention centres are doing their best to save lives but it's nowhere near enough. The government needs to be more proactive about its mental health goals. The Mental health program needs a huge influx of funds in order to create, build and support sustainable systems that care for those disadvantaged by mental health issues. And only a government that cares for its people can do that. A National Suicide Prevention Strategy is the need of the hour. As of now there is no such universal strategy in place. Mental health services are also not easily accessible and wherever they are, it’s too expensive for the common man to avail of. So, much more is needed to be done where mental health services are concerned. “While a comprehensive national suicide prevention strategy should be the ultimate goal for all governments,” said Dr Alexandra Fleischmann, suicide prevention expert at the World Health Organization, “starting suicide prevention with LIVE LIFE interventions can save lives and prevent the heartbreak that follows for those left behind.”