It’s been almost a year since the Covid 19 first started spreading in Wuhan, China and spread to all parts of the world, turning into a pandemic. This has brought along with it an unusual situation for everyone around the world—people were locked up inside their homes and everything was shut. Only the doctors, healthcare workers and other emergency service workers were working long hours, often going without proper sleep and food. Working day and night, like robots, is not natural for human beings, and therefore, has its consequences.
Mental health in India
Mental health of people is deteriorating globally, and the worst impact can be seen for the corona warriors.
Many people in India do not care about mental health and rubbish it off due to lack of awareness about the problem. They don’t consider it as a health problem just like any other illness, these are not much discussions or consultations with the experts, even when there is a clear sign of a person suffering from it. This state of affir is one of the major contributing factor for the high suicide rates in India.
The taboo associated with discussing mental health, dissuades the person who is suffering or their family members to discuss and take the help from experts as they fear that any revelation of mental health issues can tarnish their image in the society. There are still instances that people seeking professional help are labelled mentally weak or simply ‘‘mad’. Due to superstition still persisting in society, many believe mentally ill people to be 'possessed' by some evil spirit. This forces a large number of people to visit some Godmen or Exorcists to get it cured, rather than going to a professional.
This pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has exacerbated the mental stress and resulted in a spike in the instances of anxiety and depression among the population all over the world. The healthcare workers, fighting the pandemic in the frontline as Corona Warrier, are more exposed to the dangers associated with it. Although the frontline healthcare workers are now sufficiently protected from the direct impact of the virus, their deteriorating mental health still remains an unforeseen challenge.
What are the problems faced by corona warriors in India?
Healthcare workers are responding quickly and moving in vans in many places for testing the Covid patients. They are working hard to take care of everything from regular check- up to specialised testing for the ailing people. But, what about the physical and mental health of these health workers who are serving the patients with highly contagious disease, day and night, despite feeling homesick and tired.According to a report in Indian express, Dr. Kinjal Nadia, a doctor in Gujarat's Jamnagar, said, “Spending eight hours in a PPE suit is the toughest thing to do. One can’t even drink a glass of water though has to speak loudly to be heard by patients and assistants”.
There are incidents of suicide among thejunior doctors from AIIMS Delhi and RG Kar Medical College, Kolkata, which in itself describe the mental status of doctors and healthcare workers. Furthermore, around 80% of the doctors, especially younger ones, are at a very high risk of burning out due to constant pressure by the people, press and the administration to manage the extraordinary workload of testing, diagnosing, treating and curing the patients, successfully.
In order to manage the huge influx of patients, at many places, doctors and healthcare workers are being hired temporarily, which acts as a catalyst for stress which they are already facing. This has also led to protests by the healthcare workers, including the nurses of AIIMS Patna, for making their employment permanent.
There had been a lack of PPE kits and proper protection against the virus for the healthcare professionals in many places, which increased the danger of exposing them to the virus and putting their lives in danger. There have been many incidents narrated by the doctors and the patients about dirty floors and filthy bathrooms in government hospitals of India.
A report on Firstpost mentioned about the usage of unhygienic food and dirty bed-sheets at government-run Kasturba hospital in Mumbai. An online petition against this situation had garnered over 100,000 signatures.
A news article from the New Indian Express tells that in Bengaluru, Dr. Manohar KN, with his colleagues, conducted a survey to assess the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the mental well being of the healthcare workers. Over two thousand doctors, nurses and technical staff, aged between 20 and 65 years, participated in this survey, which was conducted in 26 states and union territories of India. This incidentally was the largest survey of its kind in the world.
The most shocking finding of the survey was that the healthcare workers were mostly in a sad mood, and the most optimistic ones (around 70%) were also becoming pessimistic. Even after wearing heavy PPE kits, masks, gloves, face shields all day long, which in itself is exhausting, they were constantly afraid of catching the virus.
Even the families of these corona warriors are worried. Many of them have succumbed to the coronavirus while saving people from it. They don’t get to meet their families while working during the pandemic, and sometimes end up never meeting again.
Are there any mental health services in India?
India, at the moment doesn’t have adequate infrastructure to diagnose and treat the people suffering with mental health issues. also there are not enough organisations or programs which can help in raising the awareness and mitigating misinformation regarding mental health issues. The availability of psychologists in India is grossly inadequate to take care of the mental health of a population of more than 130 crores.
However, the wide adoption of online meetings during the pandemic has come as a big boost to increasing the reach of online psychological counselling through video conferencing. This has enabled the patients to consult the doctors and counsellors remotely through video links, which reduced the chances of spreading the virus. But not everyone has access to such facilities.
What is the government doing about it?
The government issued a guide in April 2020 for general medical and specialised mental health care settings to be followed during Covid 19 pandemic and also launched a helpline for mental health issues during lockdown. However, when it comes to regular mental health care, India is behind most of the countries. If a country does not even have basic health care for each and every of its citizens, how can it provide them with ‘world class' mental health services?
According to WHO, India ranks second among countries with the greatest burden of disease for mental and behavioral disorders. Most of the mental health disorders go unreported, as people never let others know about it, because in India, this becomes a matter of shame and losing their pride.
Clearly, the healthcare professionals seem tough from the outside, and fight bravely, but on the inside, they’re struggling with their own issues which need to be attended.