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Mental health professionals in demand as pandemic fears grow

THE ASIAN AGE. | SITARA SURESH NAIDU
Published : Apr 5, 2020, 11:39 am IST
Updated : Apr 5, 2020, 11:39 am IST

According to WHO reports, there is a massive disparity between the number of mental health experts and those dealing with mental illness

Representational Image
 Representational Image

For Guwahati-based 20-year-old Nafisa Tasnim, who is an active protester, waking up every morning feels like an absolutely aimless and exhausting chore. The ongoing countrywide lockdown has only added to her pre-existing mental dilemmas.

Nafisa is one among thousands around the country, upon whom the countrywide lockdown has taken a toll on their mental state. “I’ve been clinically diagnosed with acute anxiety and second-stage depression,” explains Nafisa. “After recently being body-shamed and hated on by many who don’t agree with my ideologies, I became a bit rebellious. Now, with the ongoing lockdown, however, I keep overthinking and I know it is only becoming increasingly volatile.”

It is only inevitable that the number of people experiencing mental-health issues will increase with the lockdown. However, the Government of India, given the necessity to stay fit physically and mentally especially during these lockdown times, proactively initiated a toll-free helpline number for those battling mental-health issues. But is this step sufficient to curb suicidal tendencies, self-destruction, depression and the sheer fear resulting from the uncertainties the pandemic awaits? Where do we currently stand as a nation at curbing mental health issues?

A new wave

It is essential to understand that the pandemic has sent panic waves through the nation and that it is impossible to provide the accurate help required to all. However, according to recent reports by the WHO, there is a massive disparity between the number of mental health experts and those dealing with mental illness.

Sharanya Jithin, a senior psychologist, suggests that the Government must provide mental-health check up to assess the distress level of individuals. “Such a screening will clarify the levels of emergency cases counselors need to immediately attend to. For instance, people who fall under critical levels of depression need to be linked to a counselor immediately, whereas those with moderate and low levels of distress can be handed over a manual of psychological first-aid with self-care measures,” suggests Sharanya.

However, the psychologist also points out that the situation (i.e., the lockdown) is beyond our control and that it is essential for all of us to try and stay positive. Dr Vinod Kumar, Psychiatrist and Head of Mpower — The Centre, throws some light on the mental illnesses foreseen in days to come.

“In light of the current events with respect to COVID-19, common psychological and behavioural responses can include acute stress reactions such as insomnia, anxiety, decreased perception of safety, anger, scapegoating and increased presentation to healthcare because of fears of illness,” he says. “Health-risk behaviours include increased intake of alcohol and tobacco, altered work–life balance, social isolation and increased family conflict and violence.”

Dr Vinod warns a minority of individuals may develop disorders such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorders, which will require formal treatment. Including children.

As we conclude our talk with him, Dr Vinod points out that he’s been receiving calls from patients regarding an increase in anxiety-based symptoms including OCD symptoms and illness-anxiety behaviour. “It’s early days in our country, so we’ll have to wait and watch for the full impact in due course. We’ll surely encounter patients with increased emotional distress resulting from the outbreak’s impact on them, their families and their communities,” he says.

Tags: coronavirus pandemic, mental health professionals
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