Dealing with the human condition – editorials
The suicide of a young man, who was admitted to Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital after flying from Sydney, even while awaiting test results to determine if he had coronavirus disease (Covid-19), is a wake-up call. Comments have been made on the security measures necessary to deal with the outbreak and the individual, social and institutional actions required. But not enough attention has been paid to the cost of the disease, and the messages that surround it are affecting mental health.
Covid-19 is new. Rarely, if ever, in recent history, have humans around the world, whether in Boston or Bangalore, Wuhan or Doha, Rome or Seoul, experienced a set of common concerns, driven by a single factor. From its roots to its symptoms, from its treatment protocol to a possible cure, uncertainty abounds. This uncertainty is causing fear, anxiety, panic among people: about themselves, about their loved ones, about their future. This is combined with a feeling of shame among those who suspect or have the infection, due to the stigmatization of patients with Covid-19. Yes, there are people who could have been more careful; Yes, there has been a streak of irresponsibility in those who should have followed treatment protocols. But it must be emphasized that an infected patient is not guilty, but is actually a victim. Targeting individuals or families with traces of the case is wrong. Unacceptable racial attacks, whether against Chinese Americans in the United States or against people from Northeast India, only add to this sense of vulnerability. Disinformation is not helping.
The government must weave into the mental health dimension in the way it approaches Covid-19. There has to be sustained counseling and therapy for suspicious patients and cases. There have to be better messages, which fight the feeling of shame associated with Covid-19 and emphasize that social distancing is a temporary measure and that patients are not criminals. There has to be kindness and empathy in the way families, neighbors, and communities relate to each other. Only a human response can help deal with the deeply vulnerable human condition of these times.