The Optimist Citizen

How India managed to deal with the rising mental health crisis amid the peak of second wave

The surge in COVID-19 cases in India is taking a toll on mental health. Many people are reeling under the effects of anxiety, trauma, depression, and panic attacks. More interventions are coming into play as the nation deals with repercussions of the pandemic. Read to know more.

“A couple passed away due to COVID complications while I was on my duty. They had two children, one in their early 20s and the other in high school. It was so hard for me to break the news to them. I felt as if I had been at fault and did not do enough to save their parents. The guilt is weighing me down.” said a frontline worker.

The menacing COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on India. While scores of people are losing lives, others are grappling with the unsettling situation across the country. The second wave has had people reeling under the effects of anxiety, trauma, depression, and panic attacks. It would not be an understatement to say that the second wave of COVID worsened India’s mental health pandemic in the making.

Existing Mental Health Scenario of Individuals and Health Workers

A report published in Lancet points out that the pre-COVID-19 scenario saw one in seven Indians having mental disorders of varying severity in 2017. The gravity of the current scenario is yet to be fully understood. While COVID-19 positive patients often suffer from depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress; frontline workers tend to burn out and experience fear of getting infected. Even the figures of COVID-19 related suicides have touched new heights.

Mental Health of Medical Workers is a growing concern

Clinical Psychologist Medhavi Sood shared, “Frontline health workers are under a lot of pressure. But in my view, a lot of that pent up stress would come out once the pandemic is over.” She added that erratic work shifts and immense pressure at work have taken a toll on their physical, emotional, and mental health. According to Indian Medical Association, more than 1,200 doctors have lost their lives so far in a country that’s reported nearly 27 million Covid-19 cases.

Gaps In Mental Health Care System in India

The Government of India has initiated programs like the National Mental Health Program and District Mental Health Program. The government also launched a toll-free helpline number last year to help those who may face any mental health issue due to the pandemic. However, these services remain inaccessible to many because of a lack of education, economic inequality, language gaps, stigma, and one’s inability to express emotional stress. According to the World Health Organisation, there is a huge shortage of psychiatrists and psychologists in India, compared to the number of people suffering from mental health issues. India is estimated to have 0.75 psychiatrists per 100,000 people while the desirable ratio is at least 3 psychiatrists per 100,000 people.

How Can We Deal With Mental Health Issues?

Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has exacerbated India’s long-standing mental health pandemic. The way forward is to put concerted efforts into sustaining the conversation around mental health. Several therapists, counsellors, psychologists and physicians are conducting online sessions for people across the country to alleviate anxiety related to the pandemic. Therapize India is trying to make mental healthcare accessible to all with its network of 80+ therapists. Room: The Mindcare Space is offering support spaces through group chats or video calls. Delhi-based  Serenity Clinic is offering aid to those struggling with depression, anxiety, addiction, ADHD, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, OCD and others.

Dr Singh suggests that self-care strategies can help people in taking care of their mental well-being. Be it involving mindful exercises or indulging in creative activities; bringing in small nuances of joy in everyday life can strengthen our support system. “We encourage people to ground them in their daily activities and work upon building resilience,” she adds. “While the uncertainty persists, it is important to remain interconnected to our loved ones and extend compassion and empathy to others.” Akansha Chandele, a counselling psychologist and founder of I Am Well-Being, shared that moving one’s body is essential to regulate the nervous system along with taking timely meals and sticking to a proper sleep cycle.

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WHO recommends some of the steps to improve the mental well-being of frontline health workers. They include: establish a blame-free and just working culture through open communication, provide access to mental well-being and social support services, and establish policies to ensure the appropriate and fair duration of deployments, working hours, rest breaks and minimizing the administrative burden on health workers.

How Mental Health Professionals Are Coping With Stress?

Mental health professionals are facing a challenge with the cases being doubled during the second wave. Sood shares, “Therapy has no manual and we were certainly not prepared for this catastrophic situation. Still, taking the support of simple activities such as meditation can go a long way in stabilizing our health”. Dr Mimansa Singh Tanwar, Lead Clinical Psychologist and Head, Fortis School Mental Health Program, says that limiting news consumption is crucial. In addition, disengagement from social media, listening to music are a few ways therapists can take care of themselves while giving a helping hand to others.

A recent report by Lancet suggests that now is the right time to assess impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of people. The insights would give us new redesign strategies to deal with an insidious crisis. India needs awareness, timely intervention, effective implementation of health programs, and a collaborative public-private-social partnership to avert the mental health crisis.

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