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Mental Health: In The Time Of Pandemic

by AG
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We live in a world dominated by the Bollywood industry, where people are influenced by celebrities more than anyone else. And thanks to some celebrities, who use their fame in a good way, inspire people to do better and break the stereotypes with their movies or real-life situations. Some movies and celebrities trigger us to view life from a different perspective. In 2016, the film, ‘Dear Zindagi’ had touched the topic of mental health that was till then just spoken with hushed words only in real-life, if at all. It made us realize that it is okay to not be fine and ask for help.

Now that life has changed for each one of us due to the pandemic, it has also brought in some unplanned issues too, like mental disorders. And it is totally okay to ask for help in this tough phase of a pandemic.

So, let’s get an insight from the clinical psychologist, Rahul Sharma working in National Mental Health Programme under District Hospital, Bhopal. With more than 16 years of experience, Rahul Sharma revealed how the doctors are dealing with the patients suffering from mental trauma and stress due to the pandemic and quarantine.

Speaking about their 24×7 mental counseling helpline, Rahul Sharma said, “We have made four groups, who work for 6 hours each for the 24×7 counseling which includes mental health professionals, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, rehab psychologists. So each group has 6-7 mental health care providers, who work in shifts for the toll-free number counseling. Then, we are into pro-active calling in which our two groups counsel people, who are quarantined and the ones who are tested positive. Since we don’t receive many calls on the toll-free number as not many are aware of it, we have started pro-active calling. Doctors call the patients, who are in hospital tested positive with the virus, the ones who are discharged, and those who are home-quarantined, with their own numbers and counsel them. Approximately we talk to 300-400 patients per day. A lot of people in quarantine are restless and clueless about what’s going on with them, so we help them understand why it is important for them. Explaining to them the rationality of quarantine is important. We analyze what symptoms they have, if they’re going through some treatment earlier or not, what signs they are showing, some who had relapsed due to the pandemic but the maximum are dealing with stress and anxiety. So we treat them accordingly. And because it’s a novel virus, the uncertainty of the source of infection is making the patients more stressed. Apart from face-to-face counseling, we also do group counseling with some recreational activities. Then there are migrants, who were walking their way back home but were stopped by police and got quarantined. So we counsel and give them assurance.”

What are the mental health issues that people are dealing with, Rahul Sharma said, “It is not only the ones tested positive with the virus suffering from mental illness but the ones, who are following the lockdown rule by staying at home also deal with collective consciousness? People are worried about what this pandemic is, when will it end, the change of their lifestyle pattern, and most importantly the uncertainty of the future. The uncertainty leads to fear, frustration, mood disorders.”

“With the couples locked inside their homes due to the pandemic, we have seen a rise in the domestic violence cases. The self-isolation has led to conflicts between them. Even we have seen a rise in child abuse cases. People are dealing with a lot of things stuck inside their homes. People in India are not much aware of the mental health and problems they’re dealing with. Also, there’s a lot of stigmas attached to mental health in our country. People are unable to recognize their symptoms.”

How are you trying to create awareness on one of the most-tabooed topics of our country i.e., mental health? Rahul Sharma shared, “We are into the National Mental Health Programme in MP, which is a flagship by the Government of India. It includes the district Mental Health Program which envisages the provision of basic mental health care services at the community level. Even the research says that people recover better in their community than in the institutional centers. For awareness, IEC is important, i.e., information, education, and communication. We do training for that, we have materials available, create awareness programs, counseling sessions, and do some projects in schools, panchayat, jails and communities.”

“Maximum people suffering from mental illness are treated with counseling and rarely we have to prescribe them medicines. There are two types of disorders – psychosis and neurosis. Psychosis is a condition that affects the way your brain processes information. And neurosis is a relatively mild mental illness that is not caused by organic disease, involving symptoms of stress (depression, anxiety, obsessive behavior, hypochondria) but not a radical loss of touch with reality.”

“The reason why staying inside their homes have become stressful for a lot of people is because of their lifestyle. The way of living for Indians is very different from the westernized culture. Our living pattern is eventually changing with time. We have customized the IEC concept in Hindi. In our country, health is never an election issue. Though it is too important to vote for health and awareness no one focuses on that. Health is not even a fundamental right in our country. It’s not considered ‘important’.”

Whether the government is taking any step to improve the medical structure, Rahul Sharma said, “If we talk about mental health, then there’s already a lot of improvement. But the overall healthcare expenditure of GOI, that is less than 3% of total GDP. And in for mental health, it is less than 1%. When NHM was launched, it was promised that the percentage will go up to 6% but nothing of such happened. I feel there should be right to healthcare and it is very important to have a fundamental right.”

“How are you ensuring your and your team’s safety as you meet pandemic patients?” Rahul Sharma said, “It’s very risky for us and though we wear PPE, we aren’t sure how effective and safe that is. But patients are more anxious and distressed than us, so it is our duty to help them. It is not the case that everyone sitting at home is happy and satisfied. Everybody deals with worry and uncertainty.”

Speaking about the violence and attacks on doctors, Rahul Sharma said, “They’re different reasons behind it. There’re a lot of fake messages spreading on social media and messaging platforms that when quarantined, they have to go through a lot of torture. There’re a lot of political issues that people are creating out of the pandemic. It’s more of a social-political problem. And to end this, people need to understand and be aware of the political and social movements.”

Rahul Sharma concluded on the note, “Anyone suffering from mental health must go for the regular sessions. The mental health services should be accessible, affordable, and available. There should be awareness too. The counselors should promote community treatment more. On the education level, there should be proper awareness in people to understand if they have any symptoms of mental health. The ones studying psychology should get practical training in their course. Especially now, when there are a pandemic and shortage of doctors, students can be given practical on-field experience and training on how to handle patients.”

Do you think mental health problems are not given the deserved importance in our country? Share your views with us. And if you have any questions related to it, let us know!

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