NEW DELHI: India is slowly but surely emerging from the dark shadows of the Covid pandemic that disrupted our lives like never before.
Life is limping back to the pre-Covid normal. The restrictions are on their way out. Markets, offices, restaurants, public places are opening up much to the relief of all.
But there are certain hidden impacts of the pandemic that will take a long time to heal.
Mental health is one such issue whose implication has still not been completely assessed. Some may not be aware of it, others may be aware but won’t want to acknowledge it and some others may acknowledge it but not be willing to talk about it.
The fear of the virus, the trauma of isolation and the horror of deaths have taken a heavy toll on our mental health.
The period of helplessness and hopelessness will remain etched in our memories for long.
For almost two years, people lived with anxiety.
The pandemic has aggravated mental health problems in people of all ages across the globe.
The stigma attached to mental health issues makes the situation in India all the more alarming.
Experts feel that the issue has been inadequately addressed in India.
“Mental illness is still poorly understood, inadequately addressed and needs a whole – of – community approach to address the spectrum from mental health to severe mental disorders,” said Pratima Murthy, Director, Nimhans.
However, they believe that one should immediately reach out to the family, social support, and doctor if one feels off.
It has altered the routine of life and caused massive changes resulting in severe psychological responses and mental health crises.
People trying to come out of the phase are in need of special attention and treatment.
“One of the best ways to build India back better is to reset the cultural fabric, organizational framework and individual mindset around mental health. To achieve this, multi-sectoral action and public-private partnerships are key,” says Dr Nalini Saligram, Founder & CEO, Arogya World.
As per National Mental Health Survey 2015-16, nearly 15% of adults in India require treatment for one or more mental health disorders.
The survey also states that 1 in 20 people are depressed, and 1 in 40 have experienced depression in the past.
The ensuing pandemic has worsened the situation.
Numerous studies on the impact of Covid on mental health have been carried out.
As per a study published in The Lancet medical journal in October, women and youth were most affected by mental health disorders during the pandemic.
It suggests that an additional 53 million cases of major depressive disorder and 76 million cases of anxiety disorders were due to the pandemic.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the pandemic has taken a dire toll on mental health, indicating that cases of anxiety and depression had swelled by over 25 percent globally.
The WHO also found that the Covid-19 crisis had in many cases significantly impeded access to mental health services and concerns about increases in suicidal behaviour.
Stigma around mental health
The stigma associated with people suffering from mental illness has been a hindrance in the efforts of individuals or organizations promoting overall mental health. Despite several notable celebrities coming out in the open, mental health has been ignored.
The pandemic has added to the growing number of people experiencing a decline in their mental health.
A 28-year old working professional shares how she lost her mother in the pandemic and affected her mental health.
“I lost my mother due to Covid during the first wave and after that, it took a huge toll on my mental health. I started having nervous breakdowns and panic attacks. I had to go through therapy to treat anxiety and depression,” she said .
Govt action on tackling mental health
In the Union Budget 2022-23, the finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the setting up of a National Tele Mental Health programme, which will see 23 tele-mental health centers being launched.
The National Tele Mental Health Program is a welcome move towards mainstreaming mental wellness and ensuring ubiquitous accessibility of the services.
The move signals the government’s willingness to confront tough issues with meaningful action.
“The tele mental health initiative of the Government of India is therefore a welcome step in making services available to people of all languages, socio-economic strata and backgrounds. It can reach under-served and hard to reach populations,” said Dr Pratima Murthy , Director, Nimhans.
It is essential to build on the momentum provided by the government in its recent budget and work with other players to tackle mental health. It really is a matter of will and cost, says Dr Nalini.
A lot of people are opting for therapy sessions but somehow there are still some sections for whom it is still inaccessible.
Experts believe that if therapy continues to be expensive and out of reach, there won’t be any positive outcomes.
Provision of quality therapy at affordable rates, accessible anywhere, anytime, will be able to create a ripple effect, experts feel.
“By bringing mental health dialogue into mainstream discussion, we will not only eliminate the stigma associated with it but also, more importantly, lay a strong foundation for a healthier and stronger life,” said Dr Nalini Saligram.
India needs everyone, including the 300 million young people, to become productive working professionals, and contribute to society to the best of their potential, building and strengthening the foundation of our country, she added.
“India is a world leader in frugal innovations in mental health care through the deployment of non-specialist providers and this knowledge is ripe for translation to the workplace,” Dr Vikram Patel, a Professor at Harvard Medical School said.
Looking forward, everything is not as bleak as it looks, given the measures by the government and other institutions, there is still hope to enhance one’s well-being and survival.