Covid-19 has sparked a mental health crisis in India, according to experts

Covid-19 is not just a physical crisis but in India cases related to mental health ailments have also shown an upward curve.
A woman stressing out
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Team Health Shots Published: 14 Sep 2020, 14:59 pm IST
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Workload has increased, social gatherings are no longer safe, and routines have become mundane. This is the life we have been living since the last six months. So it will be safe to say that covid-19 has brought up closer to stress in many ways. 

Covid-19 and stress are becoming inseparable day by day. There was once a time when meeting friends and acquaintances used to help us channelize our stress. But today, not even the thought of going on a vacation pumps you up, because you know that it’s not on the cards anytime soon.

To make matters worse, this stress isn’t just something that’s coming and now. It has sparked a steep increase in the number of mental health cases India has reported in the past few months.   

Not everyone can adopt to this new normal
“This prolonged uncertainty has led people to feel a lot more anxious. So people who were on a mild anxiety spectrum earlier have moved to moderate and severe anxiety. When anxiety gets severe, the kinds of behaviour of self harm increase,” said Arvinder Singh, psychologist, psychotherapist and director of the Ashoka Centre for Well-Being in New Delhi.

As India’s SARS-CoV-2 tally crossed 47.5 lakh with 94,372 new cases reported on

Stress-induced self harm is being reported in many parts of India
The worries are rooted in reports of more people inflicting injuries on themselves, several ending their lives, and many complaining of depression and severe anxiety.

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In Gujarat, for instance, the 108 emergency ambulance service received about 800 cases of “self injuries” and 90 cases of suicide in April, May, June, and July, officials said. The numbers began to spike soon after the nationwide lockdown, which came into effect on March 25.

Vikas Bihani, an 108 service official, said the suicide prevention and counselling helpline usually got around eight to nine calls per month but the numbers have doubled since March.

“Between March and August, we got 142 calls from depressed people. A majority of the callers were facing economic, family or mental health related issues and wanted to end their lives,” he said.

Some people who test positive for coronavirus inflict injuries on themselves because they cannot tolerate “disappointment”, B N Gangadhar, director of the Bangalore-based National Institute of Mental Health and Neurological Sciences (NIMHANS), told PTI. His colleague V Senthil Kumar Reddi, coordinator at NIMHANS’ department of psychiatry, said the reasons behind cases of self-inflicting injuries need to be studied. 

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Gujarat-based psychologist Prashant Bhimani said the economic crisis is fuelling suicidal thoughts. “There is a 70% increase in the number of patients suffering from depression and obsessive compulsive disorder due to the coronavirus. People are worried about what will happen to them if they contract the coronavirus,” he added.

Though there are no exact figures, the anecdotal evidence of people choosing to end their lives is mounting. Just last week, a newly married couple was found hanging in their home in Panipat. Aawed (28) and his wife Nazma (19) had got married barely a month back, according to reports.

Aawed was upset at losing his job as a welder during the lockdown and was hoping to get work in the unlock period. But that did not happen and he got increasingly desperate, his brother Jawed was reported as saying.  

In the national capital, two brothers, both in their 40s, were found hanging in their jewellery shop in Chandni Chowk. They left behind a suicide note, apologising to their families and citing financial crisis as the reason behind the extreme step.

The stories of mounting stress and the inability to handle it are many and from all parts of the country.   

“There are common anxiety issues… like whether they have contracted covid. People feel anxious if they have a common cold or cough. They are also worried about jobs, economy and EMIs. They are worried about the uncertainty of the future.” said Samir Parikh, director, Mental Health and Behavioural Science, Fortis Healthcare,

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The number of patients being referred to the psychiatry department of Lucknow’s King George’s Medical University has gone up significantly, said Adarsh Tripathi, additional professor at the department.  

“Economic activities came to a halt, businesses shut down. Besides, insecurity about the future, jobs, marriages and education all had a direct psychological impact,” he added.

In Tripathi’s view, the 15-25 age group is most vulnerable to self-harm and suicidal ideas.      

People of all ages are now reporting mental health issues
It’s not just the younger generation but even the older lot is facing the heat. Kolkata-based psychologist Sanchita Pakrashi said the single most important factor is collective anxiety about the future.

“I am getting patients of all ages. Till February, the complaints came mainly from students and young professionals suffering from job stress and personal crisis. Now it is a collective crisis which shows no sign of abating,” she said.

Jaipur-based psychiatrist R K Solanki agrees. He said cases of anxiety disorders, stress and suicidal thoughts have increased in the last three-four months, most related with situations emanating from the lockdown and the spread of the coronavirus.

“During lockdown, people were mostly emotionally depressed. Now, worries related to the future are among the main reasons for anxiety and depression in many young patients,” Solanki said.

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“There is no doubt that the cases of people suffering from stress, anxiety and depression are on the rise. The lockdown has not only led to a relapse in people who were on the recovery path, but also triggered stress and anxiety related disorders among those who earlier never had any symptoms,” says Anand Nadkarni from Mumbai’s Institute of Psychological Health. 

It’s a pan India problem that has been growing and evolving through the months
Tabassum Sheikh, clinical psychologist, Apollo TeleHealth, says: “When the lockdown started, the calls were related to people facing issues in handling work stress and the household chores. Ever since July, the calls are more about interpersonal problems.” 

Dr Parikh added that people who are struggling need a support system and friends and family are key. He also said people should feel free to seek help if they are struggling.

The bottom line is that by now we all are well aware of the fact that covid-19 is not going anywhere, anytime soon. So, it’s better to learn and deal with it. Indulge yourself with your family and hobbies. Make the best of this time so that you can minimize the stress quotient wisely. 

(With inputs from PTI)

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