The Womb

How is Covid-19 affecting the Mental Health of the people?

By Harleen Walia

The country is going through quite a tough time with self-isolation leading to social distancing. Many issues are knocking at the doors of people, with one major issue being mental health. Mental health means the social, psychological, and emotional well-being of a person. Our mental health also determines how we handle stress, make choices, and how we relate to others. 

The multi-layered effect of Covid-19 has even made it worse for women and girls. Social distancing and self-isolation have made the lives of women more complicated in every sphere. The majority of the women work in the informal economy i.e. their job is not secured, the pay is comparatively less and hence they save less. With the sudden rise in unemployment and with very little access to social protection, women don’t have the capacity to absorb the economic shock and hence are at a greater risk of falling to poverty. 

As per the survey conducted by the Indian Psychiatry Society, within a week of the lockdown, the number of mental health cases in India had risen by 20%.  Nelson Vinod Moses, Advocate suicide prevention said, “At-risk populations include the 150 million with pre-existing mental health issues, Covid-19 survivors, frontline medical workers, young people, differently-abled people, women, workers in the unrecognized sector, and the elderly.”

Talking to Team Womb, Harpreet Singh, Psychiatrist said, “The cases have definitely increased. I have majorly received cases involving anxiety and stress. There is also an increase in relapsed cases i.e. the cases which were recovered or were on the verge of recovering, are now relapsing. The major reason behind this increase in these cases is definitely lockdown and self-isolation. People are now getting insecure which involves a job, personal, professional, and financial insecurities, and these insecurities further lead to stress.” 

The researchers have warned the lasting effect of this pandemic on mental and physical health. Some of the reasons behind a sudden increase in mental health cases are – 

  1. Social Distancing – The biggest cause behind this mental illness is that we have distanced ourselves from the people we used to meet regularly. By not being able to meet people, the walls of our emotions are all up, leading to an increase in stress. 
  2. Disruptive routine – The division of time plays a very vital role. It is always good to have a fixed routine and now, due to our disruptive routine, we do excessive thinking which leads to excessive stress.
  3. Long-distance relationship – Staying in touch with your loved ones over digital platforms can get quite stressful. With no idea about the upcoming time, the unnecessary thoughts we get may lead to mental health issues. 
  4. Addiction for substances – One of the major reasons behind an increase in mental health issues is substance addiction. While liquor was not available for 2 months, it is now available. The increase in its sales is a testimony of how alcohol addiction has reached its peak. 
  5. Sleep Disorders – Lockdown has definitely changed our sleep patterns, which in turn has an impact on our mental and physical health. 

Due to lockdown and isolation, there has also been an increase in unpaid care work of family members at home for women. Apart from all the responsibilities and work, women bear the burden of household chores as well. Competing/managing demands of work, as well as at home, can get difficult for women and as a result, it puts their job at a higher risk with cuts and pay-offs. The current situation is even tougher for single mothers, who are unable to support themselves and their families. As per the data sourced from Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Indian women on average, do six or more hours of unpaid care and labor every day in comparison to Indian men, who on average, spend less than an hour. 

A recent study which was published in the medical journal ‘The Lancet’, warned that the range of mental health issues ranges from anxiety and anger to sleep disturbances, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which are likely due to the psychological impact of the quarantine.

In 2000, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared gender to be a critical determinant of mental health and illness. They said, “Gender determines the differential power and control that men and women have, over the socio-economic determinants of their mental health and lives.” As a result of the coronavirus outbreak, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) has also called for ‘gender-sensitive’ deployment of healthcare, especially mental health.

Women are often trapped in a never-ending circle of tensions, power, and control and are vulnerable to experience various mental health concerns, which include depression, anxiety, and trauma. The lack of social support for women, often leads to internalization of abuse and directing anger, humiliation and fear towards themselves, leading to feelings of worthlessness and helplessness. If a woman experiences both – love and abuse from the partner, they will associate love to anger. They often try to defend, justify or minimize the abuse and chances of them reporting are minimal. 

Every year, to create awareness about mental health and to bring attention to mental illness and its effect on the lives of people, mental health awareness week is celebrated. This year, mental awareness week is being celebrated from 18th to 24th May and the theme for this year’s campaign is ‘Kindness.’ Some of the ways to practice kindness are –

  1. Mindfulness – Mindfulness is the state of being conscious despite all the physical and mental distractions. By doing breathing exercises, doing household chores and by doodling, one can practice mindfulness. 
  2. Self- compassion – Self-compassion is how we extend compassion to one’s self at the time of trouble. We usually, unconsciously, jump to hypercritical evaluations in the times of distress. 
  3. Gratitude – The quality of being thankful is called gratitude. The practice of gratitude is highly neglected because we usually focus on unfinished things, rather than focusing on finished things. By simply thanking our body and our mind for pulling through the bad days and by writing a gratitude journal, one can practice the quality of gratitude.

Individuals and society must sensitize the effects of Covid-19 on mental health of the women and work together on long-standing inequalities. Women have always proved to be the backbone of recovery in the society despite sustaining their families and household during difficult times. Women should be given equal status and should be included in economic planning, policy decision-making and planning emergency responses. 

Coming to the question, if India is ready to deal with such a situation, with increased mental health cases – India has 9000 psychiatrists or say 1 doctor for 1,00,000 people. The suitable number of psychiatrist is 3 for 1,00,000 people. We can therefore say that India is short of 18,000 mental health doctors. Recently, India and United States agreed to help each other fight mental health. During the first official visit of President Donald Trump to India in February, an agreement was signed between the two countries stating that United States will open its door to therapies like Yoga and Ayurveda medicines for fighting mental illness. This might work for Americans, but what about the Indian sufferers? India just spends 33 paisa on sufferers of mental health every year. Therefore what we need in India is put into practice what we already know and ensure that as a nation we pay dedicated attention to our mental health. 

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