India didn’t pay attention to mental health before COVID-19, now it suffers

Due to the effects of lockdown on residents, mental health has been emerging even after the government of India eased the most severe restrictions since June. The country is still struggling with one of the most severe COVID-19 outbreaks in the world. India now has over 4.2 million cases of the virus, making it the second-highest recorded cases globally, after the United States.

India has the highest suicide rates in the world

Image: World Health Organisation, Graphic : CNN


Recent research conducted by the suicide prevention in India foundation (SPIF) in May and found that nearly 65% of 159 mental health professionals surveyed and reported an increase in the chances of self-harm among patients.

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More than 85% of therapists said that they were dealing with severe fatigue, and over75% said fatigue had impacted their work. Before COVID-19, India had the highest suicide rate in South-Asia and now oracle’s health is pushed to the limit. India does not have a long history of talking about mental health. In a survey conducted in 2016, a national mental health survey across 12 states recorded 50 slighting terms used for people suffering from mental illness.

“Usually, the public believes that individuals with psychiatric illnesses are incompetent, irrational and untrustworthy consequently, they have low marriage opportunities,” said one of the participants.

“People think that talking about your feelings makes you weak — there are a lot of misconceptions.”

Baldev Singh, a volunteer counselor

There are several terms used for (udaasi), grief (shok), or devastation (bejasi) in Urdu and other Indian languages, the specific terminology to state that the sight of mental illnesses is lacking.

That’s because the practice of psychiatry is largely Western, said Dr. S.K. Chaturvedi, Head of Department at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) in Bangalore.? “It is easier for people to talk about physical symptoms and illnesses than to express to their families that they are feeling low or depressed,” he said.

India provides a way lower attention to mental health than US does. Image Source: World Health Organisation

There have been signs of change in recent months.

Government Programmes

Chaturvedi, from NIMHANS, a part of the Central Government initiative, addresses mental health migrants who were unluckily affected by the lockdown that extended for about 68 days.

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Millions of migrants lost their jobs and were stuck in the cities during the lockdown. Laborers were forced to go back to their villages, but they were also unwelcomed in their villages due to fears that they were carrying the virus. A helpline was set that refers to prospective patients to refer to their mental health.

Mental health researchers say that more funding is needed to solve this issue. Out of India’s total 2020-2021 budget, just 2% has been set aside for healthcare. And of that figure, less than 1% has been allocated to mental health.

“Thanks to COVID, everyone is in the same boat of despair and despondency.

Nelson Moses, Founder of the Suicide Prevention in India Foundation

Moses believes that the Indian government should start paying attention to mental health.

“Never before have we witnessed more engagement surrounding mental health. Thanks to COVID-19, everyone is in the same boat of despair and despondency,” said Moses. “It has gone from (being) swept under the carpet to hitting the ceiling.”

“There needs to be a lot more communication … we need to start from ground zero in schools and colleges and rope in parents and make them comfortable with it, so that their children can be comfortable talking to them about their issues.”

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