The COVID-19 pandemic has witnessed an unprecedented impact on the mental health of individuals worldwide. The current state of uncertainty has led to mounting cases of individuals suffering from anxiety, depression, increased substance use disorders among a host of other psycho-social problems.
The new norms of social distancing and state lockdowns have left people feeling isolated and fearful about the future. We are feeling helpless amid this looming uncertainty, and have gone back to basic human survival mode making us hypervigilant and susceptible to severe amounts of stress.
We are also witnessing a state of collective grief, wherein we have experienced loss of employment, leading to financial stress as well as losing family and friends who succumbed to the virus, and lastly disruption in our daily routine, that has caused severe disturbances with rarely anyone who has been spared under the above circumstances. Existing cases of mental health problems before the pandemic was just the tip of the iceberg until we were all faced with the biggest adjustment we had yet to witness in our entire lifetime.
According to the WHO, one in every four people will be affected with a mental illness at some stage of their lives. Aside from these dismal numbers, the WHO (2018) also states that someone dies of suicide every 40 seconds, which means it is the second leading cause of death between 15 – 29 years old. With every suicide that takes place at least 6 people known to the person who dies by suicide will also witness acute psychological disturbances.
Mental health professionals in India have been working relentlessly to reduce the stigma and misinformation around mental illnesses, and celebrity disclosures have also helped in terms like anxiety, depression and mood disorders becoming a part of common household parlance, thus raising awareness and normalising mental illnesses to some degree.
This current situation has come a long way from when individuals with mental health issues were previously faced with severe stigma and discrimination. However, meeting the mental health needs of individuals in India has posed to become the biggest challenge we are yet to face.
The Indian Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare states that the current ratio of psychiatrists is one for over 2 lakh people. This creates an extraordinary gap between mental health workers and individuals seeking treatment, and necessitates the dire need to build greater resources and access to quality mental health care for people.
The World Mental Health Federation recognises greater access and investment for mental health for this year’s theme for World Mental Health Day and states that quality mental health care is a basic human right. Mental health illnesses can potentially cost the global economy up to $16 trillion dollars by 2030, (World Economic Forum 2018) if this mounting problem is not addressed.
It is therefore essential that the government prioritise building resources for affordable and accessible mental health care. A strong foundation in mental health care can build a resilient society where individuals are well equipped in dealing in unforeseen challenges and adjustments.
(The author is a psychologist and psychotherapist based in Mumbai)