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Covid-19 will exacerbate mental health problems | Analysis – analysis


Mental health problems are likely to increase exponentially at both the individual and community levels as the impact of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) deepens in the coming months. The first impact will be on those who had mental health problems before the pandemic. Your problems will surely be exacerbated. There are already a growing number of self-harm attempts. There is also an increase in burnout cases among caregivers of people with mental health problems. The second direct impact is likely to be among the general population. Psychological feelings of fear, loss, and helplessness can lead to increasing levels of anxiety and depression. Other psychiatric problems, such as adjustment disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, and mood disorders, are likely to increase. Alcoholism, substance abuse, and other forms of risky behavior may increase. The indirect impact on mental health is likely to be even more alarming. Psychosocial realities related to Covid-19 may include risks of discrimination and violence related to gender, children and caste. Disability-related adversity will further exacerbate morbidity and mortality related to mental health problems. These will be magnified by unemployment, malnutrition and poverty.

The grieving process has begun. A significant proportion of the population appears to be numb from experience. Many go on with their lives as if nothing had happened. These people are vulnerable. Many are covering their feelings of helplessness with bravado. They feel the need to express their situation in controllable and modifiable terms. The sociological impact of the pandemic is also developing. The stories of benevolence coexist with those of lynching, suicide and exploitation. Many people are beginning to outsource their anger by attacking healthcare providers.

Increased mental health problems and psychosocial effects will also affect the growth of the pandemic. There will be a decrease in compliance with the containment and treatment processes. This could be explained by the phenomenon of negative self-evaluation, where people label themselves as weak and helpless with little control over their destiny. In the long term, disabilities related to mental health problems are likely to grow. Incidents of suicide and self-harm can also increase.

When the “openness” begins, there may be a workforce that is not motivated to participate, a community that is unwilling to buy, and a proportion of people waiting to exploit. The pandemic will leave behind communities that will have to be rebuilt.

How should society respond to these challenges? Solutions must focus on healing the community, and not just healing the individual. The answer must be three levels.

At the primary level, psychological recovery and sensitivity must be intertwined with relief and recovery processes that focus on the resilience of communities. There must be first aid for mental health, empathetic relationships within a framework of dignity, participation, determination, and an effort to quickly return to education and work.

All this has to go hand in hand with psychological and psychiatric interventions. However, there is an urgent need for innovations in the way mental health services are designed, how human resources are trained, and how access to service is made possible. Current mental health interventions are tertiary. We need equivalents of social distancing for mental health.

At the secondary level, online mental health services should be provided to support people with early signs of trouble. This support could include the dissemination of mental health information, self-help programs guided through webinars, telepsychiatry, and teletherapy. Secondary level support should also include specific support for healthcare providers. Mobile mental / psychosocial health teams should reach out to those who are most vulnerable and homebound. There must be specific mental health services linked to children and survivors of violence. Tertiary-level mental health services should include traditional services such as the provision of biological, psychological, and social interventions for those with ongoing mental health problems and those with high support needs.

Policies governing the development and delivery of community mental health services should be simplified. The other service provider licenses (OSPs) for telemedicine and teleeducation are likely barriers. The current definition of mental health professionals makes postgraduates in psychology and social work unavailable for this fight.

Mental health is not just a matter of a person feeling good. At the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, mental health disorders could take the form of an epidemic. Many lives depend on how we respond to this challenge. We must remember that, like Covid-19, mental health also has no vaccine in sight.

Dr. Achal Bhagat is a Senior Consultant. (Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist), Apollo and President Hospitals, Saarthak

The opinions expressed are personal.

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