COVID-19 and its impact on mental health in India
22 May 2021
India is a country which needs to wake up to the need of mental wellbeing. With the pandemic continuing to rage on in the months of April and May, the country has suffered devastating losses. With so many people losing their loved ones , and the continuous flare of western as well as Indian media reports on the tragedy of the hour, many people have descended into a state of hopelessness and perpetual anxiety. With the limited amount of resources for pandemic containment, mental health issues have taken a backseat.
The most commonly identified mental health issues associated with COVID – 19 pandemic are stress, anxiety, depressive symptoms, insomnia, denial, anger and fear. According to newspapers reports of suicide of healthcare workers, migrant labourers and those in quarantine centres have been on a rise ever since the pandemic started to change the lives of people. There is also an increase in economic uncertainty. General population is often influenced by the flow of reporting in media. Social media has become the hub for false information related to COVID. These false information forwards lead to a chain of misinformation and acquiring of half knowledge or useless fact which has many a times led to mass panic .Other incidents like under-reporting of cases in India, media light on the daily death counts has taken away the trust of citizens from the government and led the country into a state of mental negativity. There is also an increase in economic uncertainties. This has now led to exaggeration of facts and adversely affected the mental health of people. Studies show that people are more worried about their family and friends contracting the virus than themselves. People with pre-existing mental conditions are among the most affected. The fear of isolation, increased stress have in turn led to triggering, relapse or worsening of pre-existing mental health conditions. Social distancing regulations against COVID has also led to a decrease in psychiatric beds available to the suffering patients. It has also affected the young developing minds of the country. The sudden and drastic changes in the routines of children and the closure of schools and curbing of other recreational social activities have taken a toll on the mental health of children. The decreased social interaction with their peers and reduction in outdoor activities with subsequent increase in screen time with their devices is predicted to hinder the growth of the child. Children often absorb anxiety from their surroundings and guardians, sometimes with little understanding of the situation the world is in and what exactly is happening , they feel uncertain and confused. There is a feeling of academic uncertainties in students who are in the final stages of their schoolings, and are about to give their competitive exams have also faced situations like postponing of their exams. This has led to increase in frustration and negative thoughts. There are also case reports published which have observed psychosis, deep anxiety and auditory hallucination in patients affected with COVID with had no prior psychiatric history.
Reports of COVID-19 related suicides have become increasingly common in the world news. It is not only the general population that have been facing these issues. The health workers and frontline workers like doctors, pharmacists, nurses ,policemen and sanitation workers who have been fighting against the pandemic for the past year have become exhausted. There is increased feeling of isolation and grief. They are in an entirely unprecedented situation and have oftentimes had to make impossible decisions. They have been working under continuous stress with scarce resources and with even lesser manpower. This has not only affected their family and personal life but has also placed them in a situation of moral injury. These workers are often affected by stigma and even subjected to harassment and evictions. This has led to an alarming increase in development of conditions like post traumatic stress disorder , depression, burnout syndrome and even suicidal thoughts.
There is a need for mandatory counselling session for the patient as well as his family. Grief counselling sessions should be encouraged for the families who have lost their loved ones. Social media has become a boon in cases where there is immediate need for resources, there is a ray of light in the form of youth groups, NGOs and Psychologists who are coming forward to provide free counselling and consultation for COVID-19 affected people. People have started to realise the need to take note of their mental health in the pandemic. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of Government of India has issued a tollfree helpline number for the mental health of people and this toll-free helpline-08046110007 can be used by anyone needing mental health assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic. A list of videos, advisories and resource materials on coping with stress during COVID, the helpfulness of yoga and meditation , and the need to take care of the mental health of vulnerable groups have been provided in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. There is a definite need for specialized psychological intervention and proper and consistent risk communication and crisis communication and a need for at least one psychiatric care specialist in COVID medical team. In the end , a positive approach and need based intervention with good communication will certainly help improve the mental state of the people in the midst of this pandemic.