Sukriti Dhingra
MSC (Clinical Mental Health Sciences )  King’s College London
MSC University College London

The year 2020 was supposed to be futuristic, we dreamt of space travel, hover-boards, and self-tying shoes. Who would have thought that we would be where we are right now. Smack dab in the middle of history book content.

Most of the world is in a state of lockdown. In India 1.3 billion people have been asked to sit inside their houses. And despite their better nature most people are listening to the warnings for their safety and for the safety of those around them.  The current state of the world is in turmoil, new information about death, cases found, and some form of lax by authorities or people , is keeping everyone on edge. In times like this we must care for our mental health as much as we are caring for our physical health. The repercussions of the virus will be global and enduring for the foreseeable future. Our psychological well-being is an important aspect for us to be a well-rounded individual to endure the changes that the pandemic has brought and will continue to bring to the world.

At present there is a wide variety of information available online for about self-care for people to peruse at leisure. However, soon the frustration and the general stress about work, socio-economic concerns and state of affairs will start to get to us.  Already it can be seen that information from numerous sources builds up a little mass hysteria and increases our risk perception (or the perception that we might be more susceptible than we are to the virus).

It also creates and/or alleviates our already existing anxiety and stress related to this entire event. Anxiety according to the American Psychological Association (APA) is defined as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure”.  It is perfectly normal to feel a little anxious with the onslaught of information 24/7 about the virus from multitudes of sources. However, if you feel that the symptoms are above normal range of anxiety then you might need to look for some professional help or managing anxiety tips, virtually. Depression is another possible outcome for our population as everyone is worried about their livelihood, the probable impact on their and their loved one’s health, hopelessness about the future, agitation and restlessness are common symptoms during this time. It is important to understand that these are not normal times so whatever feeling you are experiencing is normal.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), in 2019 India’s 7.5% population suffered from some form of mental disorder. The treatment gap, which is the cases prevalence of mental illnesses and the percentage of patients receiving treatments, is over 70 per cent. This does not include the large chunk of population that does not seek any help for their mental health concerns owing to the taboo and stigma faced by them in the society. WHO predicted that in 2020, approximately 20% of the population will probably suffer from some mental illness. However, this proportion for 2020 did not include the declaration of a global pandemic or a lockdown state. The amount of people in need of mental health care could just as easily double as soon as the lockdown ends. While the government’s schemes for economic empowerment are appreciated, a considerable amount of funds and job generation need to be made for the mental health sector. At present there are less than 4,000 mental health professionals to service the large demographic of people that need help right now and will require help in the aftermath of the lockdown.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare under whose jurisdiction psychological healthcare comes should create a short term- easy to learn psychological first aid (PFA) course for the mental health professionals. The course could provide them with skills to help people of the country that require attention after suffering from the collective anxiety of coronavirus pandemic.

Generation of jobs in the mental health or psychological sector would allow professionals to aid a large scale of people through the turmoil. There is a large possibility that the virus and the lockdown in general would create job losses. To guide people through this and help them provide opportunity guidance counsellors appointed by the government would help reduce the unemployment rate.

Students graduating in 2020 from schools or universities, taking competitive exams, applying for foreign universities, planning further studies of any kind have hit a bump in their roads and future planning. They will be suffering from a lot of frustration and anxiety about their future prospects. Creation of several helplines to provide up to date information as well as special provisions (such as reduced cut-off for admissions, interview based admissions with score based on competitive exams) and creating a mandate for every private and/or government school, college and university to have a councillor compulsory for students to have an interaction with after this time. Creating special periods for counselling would start to erase stigma from everyone’s minds.

Awareness programmes targeted to different population sectors of society regarding mental health, counselling, awareness, where to get help if needed would, symptoms of needing help ease the transition and stop the people from creating a panic once the dust settles.

A large number of population that visits a psychiatrist for medication is unable to reach to them due to the current situation. Most of the medication provided by private psychiatrists is not available easily in pharmacies, this could potentially exacerbate the already existing symptoms of people with mental illnesses and could further slowdown any progress they might have shown.

Since, social distancing was heavily advertised in India and the world, there might be lasting negative connotations from the statement. India already faces a large cast, class, and religion based divide, the advent of social distancing would further alienate people from each other and create hostility and probable violence. The psychological impression of such a movement will be long-term.

Research studies on the impact of a global pandemic and the ensuing lockdown on people’s mental health and well-being need to be a priority. There could be separate research studies for the different age groups and different working classes of our society. A focus of research on creating lasting psycho-social interventions, better preparedness, and crisis communication that reach a wide audience should also become a focus. Post-traumatic stress disorder could be a symptom for people who tested positive for the virus and were to be quarantined. Research which involves the patients that recovered from the virus would help us understand the psychological effect of the virus.

A suicide watch or suicide prevention helplines in different states that have large number employees or volunteers who are able to provide empathic conversations during tough times, could maybe reduce the rate of suicide post the lockdown is over. After the economic recession of 2008-2009 there was a spike in suicides in Europe by 6.5% which was sustained till 2011. Presently 12 men have died by suicide during the lockdown; the link between them could be a worry about financial situation post the pandemic but it has not been established yet. Nevertheless there should be some definite suicide prevention measures in place.

Increase in peer support volunteering and online therapy for provision of counselling to people in remote regions.

A collaboration project of adverts with the help of famous celebrities to create awareness about the access to various mental health services would create a larger influence on the population of our country.

Humans are going through tough times, each of us would benefit from being kind to each other and to ourselves. If you feel like you have symptoms of any mental health disorder contact a professional. Online and telephonic therapy is available by various therapists and organisations.

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