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Psychology 101: COVID 19

One in four people will be affected by mental health/ neurological disorders at some point in their lives according to WHO statistics, which means that currently, 450 million individuals globally suffer from some sort of mental health disorder. It is important to note that these figures include just the “reported” cases. Due to societal stigma and discrimination, the majority of the cases (nearly 2/3rd’s) go unreported. And in times of the COVID-19 pandemic where strict regulations have been put into place, we see an unprecedented rise in the number of people afflicted with mental health illnesses.

With stress and anxiety taking over the minds of many due to fears of contracting the disease, losing out on jobs and depleting incomes have led to the worsening of chronic illnesses and an increase in substance abuse. Apart from this, a more than double increase in the number of domestic abuse cases in multiple countries has resulted in the development of PTSD, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts (mostly among women and children), which add on to the large pile of existing cases. Lack of human interaction, psychological distress at the family level, and the impact of mass media and social media on psychological attitudes are some other noteworthy elements that have contributed to this mental health crisis.

India contributes to 15% of the global count for mental illnesses and substance abuse cases, and its suicide rates stand at 16.5 per 100,000 people making it the country with the highest suicide rate in South-East Asia (the world average is 10.5). 1 in 20 Indians suffers from depression and the treatment gap (prevalence of mental illnesses and the proportion of patients that get treated) is over 70%5. Even though these figures are alarming, the efforts being made towards the de-stigmatization and treatment of mental illnesses have been relatively slow. In the union budget 2019-20, out of the Rs. 62,000 crores allocated to healthcare, 50 crores (0.06% of the healthcare budget) was allocated to mental healthcare which was then further reduced to 40 crores. Out of this amount, a minor fraction of the budget is actually put to use. Not to mention, the most alarming factor is the lack of mental health experts in India, with only 0.3 out of every 100,0007 health care professionals being psychiatrists.

This calls for immediate governmental intervention in the mental health space by not just increasing the funds allocated to the cause, but also ensuring that these funds have been rightfully utilized. Supporting the establishment of more rehabilitation centers and spreading awareness to “stigmatize stigma” are some other powerful tools that can be put to use by our decision-makers. It's high time that we adopt a public-private-social approach to effectively eradicate the stigma that surrounds the subject of mental health and make psychiatry a part of mainstream medical sciences.

By: Sania Menon

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