2020: Battling a Mental Health Cataclysm

2020 is a year many will remember as the year of the global Coronavirus pandemic, and rightfully so. The COVID 19 pandemic has reshaped our collective foundational fabric. It has single-handedly shut off supply-chains, disrupted cash flow, and acted as a harbinger of global economic disruption.

Countries around the world have responded by shutting down their economies and advocating lockdowns of varying degrees. India has arguably had one of the most stringent lockdowns of all countries, restricting the movement of people, goods and shattering our social connections.

An unintended consequence of this plight has been the slow yet steady derailment of the collective psyche of the entire population as a whole. Not a lot of people are likely to remember 2020 for the fact that it is also the year of a global mental health disaster.

A Global Quandary

Humans are social beings. We thrive on human touch and intimacy. Lockdowns across the globe have effectively nullified physical human interaction in every form. It’s not a surprise then that an enormous spike in cases of mental health disorders has been seen in India in recent months since the lockdown first commenced.

In fact, according to a survey conducted by the Indian Psychiatry Society, we witnessed a 20% increase in cases of mental health disorders within the very first week of the lockdown [1]. The data further tells us that the number of cases has only magnified ever since, and at an increasingly exponential pace.

What has further become evident is that the rise in mental health disorders is due to a wide array of interwoven events. Social isolation and loss of employment are the two key contributors to this mishap. Both of these combined have resulted in a domino effect leading to higher levels of alcohol consumption nationwide, which has subsequently been a harbinger for further mental destabilization.

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Another cruel consequence of this cycle is that of an exponential spike in reports of domestic abuse. The National Commission of Women (NCW) has reported witnessing up to a whopping 100% increase in registered cases of domestic violence across the country, between March 25th and April 16th [2]. The insidious nature of the looming mental health crisis is what is truly alarming and what needs to be addressed for progress in the longer term.

A Need for Solace

So, what can we do to combat this crisis? The first step is to promulgate awareness regarding the need for improved mental health counselling during the lockdown. The existing frameworks for in-person or physical counselling need to be massively overhauled at a foundational level. The entire system needs to be adopted into a social-distancing based methodology, where the doctor-patient relationship can be emphasised while not compromising on their safety at the same time.

Second, online frameworks for counselling must be set in motion at the earliest. People with a history of mental health disorders need to be paid additional attention, as the lockdown is only likely to have exacerbated their predicaments, further pushing them into a place devoid of support. Another probable initiative to further deter negative implications of the lockdown includes keeping track of patient databases by leading psychologists using either telephonic interviews or survey forms at the least. Moreover, uninterrupted access to essential medications must be ensured both by leading pharmacy chains and psychologists alike. 

Third, a greater emphasis must be placed on combating stigmatization associated with the virus. This is in response to a brutal reality that has made itself largely evident in the past few months. It seems to be evolving into a new era of collective prejudice; one that’s arguably more insidious than the others previously encountered, since it preys on a human’s emotional vulnerability towards a cause or a condition. Reports of doctors being spat on, or being evicted have sent the healthcare industry into a frenzy, where the morality of the craft is often seen to be debated. Other similar predicaments include recently recovered COVID-19 patients being shunned socially, often reminiscent of other forms of discrimination practiced in conjecture with racial and/or gender biases. Hence the need for an institutional emphasis on combating stigmatization, which can deter such a grave reality from snowballing further.

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The virus has put a spotlight on the cracks in our societal paradigms. The ideas of globalization and an interdependent system of trade have been effectively rendered in vain. Another such paradigm is that of our mental health system, which has been astoundingly underwhelming under the circumstances. We must introduce a dynamic system of mental health professionals working in tandem with the wider public to counter the current predicament. Otherwise, we might just have another global health crisis on our hands.

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