Covid-19 versus Mental Health

Coronavirus is affecting physical as well as mental health


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Covid-19 has thrown life off balance for the past few months and this pandemic is challenging and changing priorities for people. Coronavirus is not only affecting physical health but mental health has been its one of the unseen casualties. This public health emergency is resulting into range of emotional reactions and unhealthy behaviours.

Direct and indirect psychological and social effects, job insecurity, unemployment, homelessness, fear, uncertainty and stigma around Covid-19 is resulting into stress and depression. Coronavirus is having a profound effect on mental health of people and its repercussions are causing them emotional distress.

mental healthSome psychiatrists are comparing this outbreak with times of natural disaster, war or mass conflicts, where people suffer vulnerable mental state.

The thought, that threat (disease causing virus) can be anywhere and can be carried by the person next to us or thing we are holding, is having great toll on our psychology.

The direness of the situation is to the extent where many people are succumbing under this pressure and taking their own lives daily.

Uncertain prognoses are another big factor which is creating anxiety among people. There isn’t much knowledge about future course of this disease, very limited medical knowledge is available and no known cure yet.

Uncertainty in our present lifestyle, where we are used to planning and knowing everything, is a great hardship to overcome. Shortage of resources for testing and treatment, lack of protecting gear for first responders and health care providers is also causing discomfort among people.

Imposition of all lockdowns, which is very unfamiliar public health measure, resulted in fear and panic. It infringed personal freedom of people, increased loneliness and reduced social interaction.Naturally, all these are going to hit human brain in a bad way.

In some cases, workers are forcefully evicted from their homes, to work at frontlines during these circumstances, they and their families are living with the unhealthy fear that maybe they’re bringing virus back at home.

mental healthCovid-19 forced people to stay at home. Resultantly, in homes there was lack of personal space and no individual time. It has increased tension, friction, and argument among family members. In some cases it ended up even being violent.

People easily fell into bad habits such as alcohol abuse due to unutilized free time and stress of unknown. Increased number of domestic violence cases during this time are proof of defenceless and bleak mentality of people.

Some people are in more vulnerable and exposed position when it comes to mental health than the others: Covid-19 patients/survivors, frontline workers (medical staff and police), adolescents, workers in unorganised sectors, already mental health patients and people who are following news through number of media channels.

We are also suffering from infodemic for a long time now. In pandemic fake news virus related to Covid-19 information has worsened the situation. Conflicting and unclear messages from authorities are not helping either.

In India, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare launched a mental health helpline 080-46110007 on March 29. It received 3000 calls on first day and 300-350 calls daily since then. Most of the calls are related to panic and anxiety caused by this pandemic and all the problems associated with it.

mental healthA significant spike in distress calls was also noted in other mental health and support helplines. According to a survey conducted by Indian Psychiatry Society, within a week of first lockdown, mental illness cases in India had risen by 20%.

Mental health care in India has always been scanty even when according to Mental Health Survey for year 2015-16, one in 20 people in India suffers from depression.

India has 15 crore people with pre-existing mental health issues and India’s investment in mental health in last Union Budget was INR 40 crores (20% cut was made from previous year’s 50 crore).

That means Indian government only spends 26 paise per patient on mental health (mind you this is according to number of patients in year 2015-16 and only for pre-existing patients) let alone these latest mental health problems and patients.

Our nation’s niggardly can be understood from the fact that India has only 9000 psychiatrists in formal health system for population of 1.3 billion people. Kerala, a state with the most robust primary health care system, has only 1.2 psychiatrist available per one lakh people; one can only imagine the condition of other states.

Mental Health Care Act 2017 (MHCA) that promises mental health care to all will need Rs 93,000 crore whereas our government thinks that mental well-being of 1.3 billion Indians is only worth Rs 40 Crores a year.

mental healthIf you were having anxiety amidst this Covid-19 outbreak and all the problems that it is causing, then these facts are not going to help either. But according to experts, even when pandemic is over, its effects on mental wellness of the general population, health professions and vulnerable people will remain for long time.

So, addressing the emotional outcomes of this situation is very important; as important as economic well-being and GDP of a nation and physical health of its people. Considering all the circumstances, people have to take care of their own psychological needs and those around them.

• Limit your sources of stress.

• Don’t watch too much news specially avoid television news channels and try to get information only from authentic sources.

• Break isolation. Containment measures – quarantine, social distancing and self-isolation, are having detrimental impact on human brains.

• Social distancing shouldn’t mean social isolation.

• Avoid any kind of discrimination especially with frontline workers and covid-19 patients/survivors and their families.

• Manage your time and try to follow a routine even when you are not going out to work or job daily. Having a rhythm in regular life will help you to avoid unhealthy habits, unnecessary tension and wasting overflowing time.

• Give required space and time to all members of your family. Communication is another very crucial factor that can be beneficent during these lockdowns. Talk to your friends and family, encourage people around you to communicate and create safe and healthy environment in you home for talking and listening.

If you have knowledge on the issues that people are facing these days, try to increase awareness of people around you and ask them to seek professional help. Education, awareness and training regarding psychological issues can be provided by professionals, through campaigning and with the help of news media and social media.

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Hasrat is studying for a master's degree from Department of Mass Communications & Media Studies, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda

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