As the number of Covid-19 patients seems to be peaking in India every single day, there’s also a rise of mental illness related cases. A recent survey conducted by Indian Psychiatry Society revealed there has been a 20 percent rise in mental illness cases.
In January 2020, the Indian Council for Medical Research had released data that one out of every five Indians is suffering from a mental illness but it now seems to be way more. One of the reasons for this seems to be the 21-day lockdown that was announced on March 24 to curb the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19.
The study claims that people have been living in fear of losing their jobs and businesses due to the lockdown which is resulting in mental distress. The IPS study found that the drastic increase in the number of mental patients was observed in just one week and affirms that the global health crisis could be one of the contributing factors.
It is also believed that the lockdown has had a massive impact on the lifestyle of people. They are staying indoors with limited resources which also leads to anxiety, panic attacks, and even alcohol withdrawal syndrome. That’s one reason that the Kerala government considers availability of alcohol as an essential.
Kerala had reported seven suicides due to non-availability of liquor in the first 100-hour of lockdown and had resorted to the novel ‘parchi system’ as a measure to make liquor available to people amidst the lockdown. In this ‘parchi system’, the liquor can be bought by showing special prescriptions issued by the doctors only to people facing severe withdrawal symptoms.
The Kerala government took the step to deal with the rising cases of mental health problems due to lack of alcohol. But that’s not the case in every city.
The governments hence are trying to deal with mental health conditions through various means. The central government started a toll-free helpline to deal with psycho-social problems faced by people in the wake of the outbreak and gets close to 600 calls daily.
Most calls are about the fear of contracting the disease but some are over the possible loss of job or livelihood or even domestic violence, says Dr B N Gangadhar, director of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore.
The recent case of suicide attempt by a 37-year-old suspected Covid-19 patient in Delhi has made it quite clear that the psychological burden can be overbearing. Hence, the World Health Organisation (WHO) differentiates physical distancing from social distancing, the former the requirement. "Stay connected and maintain your social networks," WHO says in its advisory.
Things seem to be worse for the healthcare professionals who are on the front lines, the fight against the disease can be as traumatic as war is to a soldier. Considering the stigma associated with the job, some residential colonies have rejected doctors and paramedics, doctors being harassed by the police personnel, makes it worse.
The United Nations Inter-Agency Standing Committee says healthcare workers could also be under the fear of transmitting the disease to their loved ones which is much likely for the medics to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In this backdrop, it isn't hard to imagine the toll the pandemic and lockdown have on those already suffering from poor mental health. So all we can do at this hour is maybe support each other rather than creating a new taboo and stigma around.