The disruption of normal life as a result of lockdown or stay at home orders has significantly impacted the mental health of people. “It is about everyone”, says Prof. Asha Banu Soletti, Centre for Health and Mental Health, of Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Children and students, adults and elderly, women, LGBTQI community, health care professionals and essential service providers, economically vulnerable groups, bereaved families and, of course, persons with disabilities and those with pre-existing mental health conditions – COVID-19 has taken its toll on the mind of many of them, explains the Professor. She was addressing a webinar on ‘Mental Health in the time of COVID-19’, jointly organized by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s Press Information Bureau (PIB) and Regional Outreach Bureau (ROB) offices in Maharashtra and Goa, in association with Panaji-based Goa College of Home Sciences (GIHS), on July 23, 2020 . The expert panelists also included Ms. Savita Goswami, Clinical Psychologist and Psycho-Oncologist in Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, who threw light on the types of mental health conditions being experienced by various groups of population and advice to cope up with it. Besides, Ms. Larissa Rodrigues, Assistant Professor of Human Development in GIHS, shared her experiences on how the community is dealing with mental health in course of the ongoing pandemic, with special focus on students.
Prof. Soletti said that COVID-19 has led to a “perfect storm”, an especially bad situation caused by a combination of unfavourable circumstances. “A recent study on outcomes of quarantine and similar prevention strategies has found that depression, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, panic, stigmatization, lack of self-control are highly prevalent among individuals affected by physical isolation. Another recent review has exposed that mental health stressors have resulted in long-lasting post-traumatic stress symptoms such as confusion, anger in the mass population and so on”. This apart, other problems associated with this phenomenon include rise in domestic violence which manifested itself quite early in the pandemic, she stated. “This is very common in the New Normal”, says the mental health expert. While efforts are being taken by the government and others to reach out to the community, as a whole, to address these issues by means of internet and communication based services; but accessibility and availability of mental health resources (and professional help) remains a challenge, especially in rural and tribal belts, stated Prof Soletti.
Speaking on the mental health concerns of different groups, Ms. Goswami said, “There is an atmosphere of uncertainty and helplessness that is confronting people. It is something extraordinary, never felt or experienced before. Common fears centre around contracting and spreading the infection unknowingly, in spite of taking all possible precautions. This lockdown has induced complete change in our social behaviours as well. Changes in working procedures and new concepts like ‘work from home’ which was not so popular before, has become a commonly adopted practice now. Addictions and alcoholism have also significantly increased. In short, all these situations have given rise to conflicts, new adjustments, loneliness and understanding issues. In extreme cases, it leads to hopelessness and suicidal tendencies.”
Speaking on the mental impact of lockdown, Ms. Rodrigues said, what has been lost in the whole new concept of social distancing is that people have to find new ways of connecting with each other, new methods of adjustment, which may often lead to loneliness and depression. However, on a positive note, she said that, it has been noticed that communities are increasingly engaging with each other, people are cultivating their neglected hobbies now.
Prof. Soletti informs, WHO’s mental health policy framework, especially for this ongoing pandemic, recommends a whole of community approach and making more and more resources to fight mental health issues available to everyone. WHO has advocated a pro-active reach-out to reduce pandemic related adversities that are known to harm mental health and cause acute impoverishment. Also, sharing manuals and video documentaries on mental health is a way of reaching out.
To overcome these mental health concerns, Ms. Goswami suggests:
- Need for more compassion and empathetic approach – for self, family and community as a whole
- Educating different groups of population (eg. children, elderly) about the situation in a manner that is understandable to them
- Speaking with friends and family about the problems confronting them. People should not shy away from seeking professional assistance and guidance.
- Restricting sources of information to only verified and reliable ones.
- Physical exercises, building a routine, engaging in activities that one enjoys, which in turn, will lead to building up positive thoughts
- Bonding with family through activities done together, eg. watching a television show with family members
Delivering the Vote of Thanks, D V Vinod Kumar, Deputy Director, PIB Goa said that COVID-19 presents a historic opportunity to give a renewed focus on mental health, to give it the attention it deserves.
Dheep Joy Mampiily, Deputy Director, PIB Mumbai, who moderated the interaction, informed that Government of India has adopted mental health as an integral part of India’s national response in the fight against COVID-19. Bengaluru-based premier institution NIMHANS has started a psycho-social helpline number 080-46110007. Also, Ministry of Human Resource Development has launched the MANODARPAN portal and helpline (8448440632) for providing psychosocial support to students, teachers and parents.