World Mental Health Day is observed on October 10 every year, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health. This year, the 29th World Mental Health Day is all the more important for the globe as we find ourselves in the midst of a global mental distress crisis brought by COVID-19. The theme ‘Mental Health for All: Greater Investment- Greater Access’ fits appropriately as the situation not only demands enhanced access to mental health by breaking the stigma but also strengthening investments in the space as supporting pillars.
Though the initial focus is the management of physical aspects of the disease, it has been recognized that the physiological consequences of the disease need to be addressed especially when they overlap in patients with existing mental health issues, who may experience severe symptoms. The second group of patients comprises people, who have never suffered from a mental disorder but are developing symptoms due to the stressful situation. Further, front-line personnel bearing the responsibilities of dealing with the disease have their own anxieties.
A non- COVID phase statistics according to a study by Lancet shows that one in seven Indians are affected by a mental disorder of varying severity. While depressive disorders, anxiety disorders and substance use disorder are most common in prevalence, studies by Bengaluru based National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS) at the beginning of the pandemic suggested that the phase of COVID- 19 would see their increase due to low moods, social isolation, quarantine, fear, anticipation of infection, social stigma and unstable finances.
Supporting predictions from NIMHANS, a recent survey by New Delhi based Indian Psychiatry Society (IPS) has shown that there has been a rise of 20 per cent in mental illness cases since the crisis has begun and at least one in five Indians are affected. It has further been reported that psychiatry divisions in private hospitals have witnessed an increase in the number counselling sessions. Family counselling sessions have increased by 20-30 per cent and two out of ten patients are reported to have suicidal tendencies. Further, cases of alcohol de-addiction have also increased by 35 per cent.
“The recovery time estimated by World Health Organisation (WHO) is just the time an infected person takes to recover from the symptoms of COVID-19 in the hospital. However, the actual recovery may take a much longer time. The post-recovery period for COVID-19 patients is very crucial wherein apart from physical care, the mental health of the patients with the help of psychological counselling is essentially required”, shares Vivek Srivastava, Co-founder & Chief Executive Officer, HealthCare atHome (HCAH), New Delhi.
Providing the much-required support, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has recently launched a helpline for early screening, first aid, psychological support, distress management, mental wellbeing, preventing deviant behaviors, psychological crisis management etc. It is being coordinated by the National Institute for the Empowerment of Persons with Multiple Disabilities (NIEPMD, Chennai) and National Institute of Mental Health Rehabilitation (NIMHR, Sehore), Indian Association of Clinical Psychologists (IACP), Indian Psychiatrists Association (IPA) and Indian Psychiatric Social Workers Association (IPSWA).
Due to the anticipation and occurrence of distress during the pandemic, digital health tools are being employed to assist in managing mental health. Special programmes are being created for frontline workers and general public to intercept mental distress.
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