Nearly 65 per cent of therapists have observed an increase in self-harm and suicide ideation/death wish amongst those who sought therapy since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Anxiety, job loss or fear of job loss, stress, isolation/loneliness and financial insecurity, top the list of concerns of people during this time.
Even before Covid-19 ripped through India, the state of mental health was already in crisis with 150 million Indians in need of mental health services, and only 30 million receiving any form of care (National Mental Health Survey of India, 2016). With the lengthy lockdown, forced isolation, fear of the virus, financial insecurity, domestic violence and rising anxiety the crisis has deepened and is perhaps heading towards a catastrophe.
Hypothesising a spike in mental health-related issues, Suicide Prevention India Foundation (SPIF) a Bangalore-based, reached out to mental health professionals (MHPs) which included psychotherapists and psychiatrists, across the country to explore common concerns people seeking therapy have been facing, the changes in help-seeking and how the pandemic is affecting the therapists personally. This survey was conducted in the month of May, towards the end of the nation-wide lockdown imposed by the government of India.
Nelson Vinod Moses, Founder, SPIF, said India already has the highest number of suicides globally. With the Covid-induced lockdown, self-harm and suicide ideation have upped. Other than creating awareness, reducing stigma related to help-seeking, and providing psycho-social support, the government will need to increase socio-economic safety nets and think of ways to support those suffering abuse.
“With longer hours spent virtually connected with their clients, the therapists’ mental and emotional investment into their work has gone up. Most therapists (62.3%) are experiencing caregiver fatigue as a result of the current Covid-19 situation, lockdown pressures and doing only/mostly telepsychiatry. The pressures of the pandemic have impacted the therapists’ personal lives as well, in turn, affecting their ability to work at their full capacity. While most (64.8%) therapists reported being mildly impacted, a portion (11%) have been severely impacted by this,” he said.
Noor Malik, Research Consultant, SPIF, said being locked down in the face of the pandemic has increased the already prevalent risk related to mental illness, financial insecurity and work stress while triggering new anxieties, feelings of not being in control, depletion of social networks, job uncertainty, abuse and social isolation. “This, in turn, has led to an increase in mental health-related issues affecting almost all sections of the population regardless of economic and social backgrounds,” he said.
Moreover, the data reveals that some groups have been impacted more than others in the context of mental health. Help-seeking was highest amongst individuals aged 25-40 years, followed by those aged 18-25 years and 40-60 years, as reported by therapists. The highest increase in help-seeking through therapy was found among females followed by males. A considerable number of therapists said they experienced an increase in gender diverse individuals and a few saw an increase in trans individuals seeking therapy. “Seventy-nine per cent of the therapists saw a rise in the number of working professionals opting for therapy. 59.7% of the therapists saw an increasing number of students seeking counselling. 52.2% of the therapists observed an increase in the number of individuals with a pre-existing mental health condition,” revealed data.
Nelson further added, “This might be a good time for the government to more seriously implement the Mental Health Care Act, 2017 that promises mental healthcare for all with a rights-based approach. It is time to mainstream the mental health conversation so that there’s awareness, increase in help-seeking and shedding of stigma. It is time for a mental health movement that normalises these conversations and leads to a focus on mental well-being right from a young age.”