INDIA: EXPOSED TO THE UNEXPECTED
Dr. Satyen Sharma
Sr. Consultant Psychiatrist | Mental Health & Substance Use Disorder
The COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected many people’s mental health and created new barriers for people already suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders. Every single human being on the face of earth suddenly found themselves exposed to the unexpected.
It is a known fact that at the rise of an epidemic, generally, people with pre-existing mental health conditions are among the most affected. These reasons may include social stigmatization, risk of infection, low priority to illnesses of mental health, etc. Pre-existing issues coupled with mental impairment, little awareness of risk, and diminished efforts regarding personal protection in patients, as well as confined conditions in psychiatric wards, could add to the vulnerability of individuals with presenting mental health illnesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Young adults too have experienced a number of pandemic-related consequences, such as the overnight closures of universities and loss of income that contributed to their poor mental health. During the pandemic, a larger than average share of young adults (ages 18-24) reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder (56%). Compared to all adults, young adults were more to report substance use (25% vs. 13%) and suicidal thoughts (26% vs. 11%). Prior to the pandemic, young adults were already at high risk of poor mental health and substance use disorder, and many did not receive treatment.
On top of that, the grief and depression resulting from the loss of a loved one, anxiety, and panic due to uncertain future and financial turmoil may lead individuals to resort to these extreme measures. Reports of COVID-19 related suicides have been increasingly common in the world news.
India is/was also not immune to this phenomenon. Cases of COVID-19 related suicide were massively reported from Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, and Kerala. The headlines read ‘Coronavirus in India: Suspected Covid-19 patient who committed suicide in UP hospital tests negative - India News, 2020; Anxiety over COVID-19 leads to Phagwara woman’s suicide: The Tribune India, 2020. An Indian newspaper article published in May 2020 revealed that Suicide was the leading cause for over 300 ‘no coronavirus deaths’ reported in India due to distress triggered by the nationwide lockdown(‘Suicides due to lockdown: Suicide leading cause for over 300 lockdown deaths in India, says the study,’ 2020).
All this spirals back to the deteriorating health of our brain who is not able to process a lot of important information at the same time.
An unpredictable event and a deadly disease pushed us back inside our homes for months at a time and restricted our mental activities. While some of us fell in love with a sudden shift in lifestyle, others felt the pressure to catch up with everything going on in the online world. Strict lockdown laws, social distancing, restrictions in movement resulted in increased screen time. Constant misinformation in social media portals also resulted in a state of panic and anxiety, often resulting in depression eventually.
The first wave was the physical health crisis, then came the financial crisis and this has led to the mental health crisis. But the question is whether India is ready for it.
Nelson Vinod Moses, Founder of SPIF (Suicide Prevention India Foundation), Bengaluru states, “The Indian government has stated that there has been no study conducted to evaluate the mental health effects of Covid. We pay mere lip service to mental health in a country where there are 150-million plus Indians who suffer from common and mental health illnesses pre-Covid. The post-Covid world has resulted in this increasing manifold.”
In the end, the healthcare workers who have been tirelessly working on the frontlines like soldiers have had to deal with the first-hand effects of all things physical, mental, and emotional. They are also living this pandemic and trying to combat it like all of us. The added responsibility of a patient is a point of stress as the nature of this illness is so volatile. Taking care of someone while maintaining physical distance and being worried about their own health is taking a toll on their mental health too.
Do you know someone who suffered the same? And what opinion did you make of it?
Feel free to reach out to me if you need any help
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