The COVID has caused havoc in human life for the past 18 months, not only inflicting physical suffering and death upon millions worldwide, but also triggering various mental health issues.
But the good news, as we celebrate yet another World Mental Health Day on 10 October, is that there’s also a paradigm shift in the perception and attitude towards mental ailments since the pandemic’s onset. Instead of casually dismissing anyone with mental health problems as “mad” or making fun of or stigmatising them, there’s been a shift towards addressing the issue as a serious disease. Indeed, people are increasingly identifying with mental health issues and realizing the need for counselling and treatments to deal with various psychological and psychiatric issues just as they would with physical ailments.
Suicide of celebs, including the controversial death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, has further ignited public interest in matters of mental health. While Sushant was said to have been suffering from psychological issues like depression and bi-polar disease, most other celebs who committed suicide — including TV actors Manmeet Grewal, Preksha Mehta, Sejal Sharma, Akshat Utkarsh, and Sameer Sharma, Kannada actress Soujanya, and Tamil actress Chitra — seemed to have taken the drastic step because of depression due to financial crunch, unemployment and relationship issues.
Workplaces giving mental health its due
Having understood the importance of mental health among their employees, even a few private companies have now introduced “wellness-off days” besides the usual annual leaves in their company policies. The idea is to help workers recuperate mentally and physically. Some companies have also noted an increasing demand for counselling and meditation sessions.
Vishal Thapa, who works for a national communications consultancy, agrees that the pandemic has brought a significant focus on wellness. “Apart from people in several professions, who’ve witnessed greater levels of stress, anxiety and uncertainty, many have been battling severe situations on the personal front too,” states Vishal. “From January next year, my workplace offers three days ‘wellness off’ besides our usual annual leaves for resting our minds.”
Pandemic-caused mental-health issues
Since the pandemic’s onset, there’s been an increase in various psychological and psychiatric ailments including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), aggravated by the loss of dear ones; suicidal tendencies owing to depression triggered job loss further causing financial and personal troubles; etc.
In some cases, even a mild coronavirus attack has affected the brain, intensifying pre-existing disorders like anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and panic attacks.
Even interpersonal relations and familial and marital discords have intensified owing to prolonged hours at home, without the option of stepping outside.
The psychological stressors
Agreeing to the above, Dr C Radhakant, professor of psychiatry at NRI Medical College and consultant at Apollo Hospital, says that when physical, psychological, social and financial wellbeing are threatened simultaneously, one can expect a much higher and longer lasting psychological distress. “The psychosocial stress from COVID or fear of contracting the disease has never been more severe,” adds Dr Radhakant. “Additional factors like lockdowns; social isolation; loss of normal face-to-face interactions; shutdown of schools, colleges, factories, retail and eateries; uncertainty of the next vacation and community participation; government mandates; etc. have affected the real-time coping mechanisms often used by normal people.”
Dr Radhakant highlights that frontline workers bore the maximum brunt, while disturbing visuals on media and social media left a significant section of the population shaken and bewildered. “These include visuals of respiratory distress, hospitalisation, lower standards of medical care for the pandemic, endless burials and funeral pyres, isolation of victims, loss of social support and a continuous barrage of negative news. Quite naturally, people felt the need for counselling, with many turning up online for supportive psychotherapy and immediate counselling,” adds the doctor.
Meditation matters for mental health
Snehal Deshpande, a developmental therapist, wellness coach and director of Heartfulness Institute, quotes from US psychologist Louis Cozolino’s book, The Neuroscience of Human Relationships, when she says, “The power of being with others shapes our brains.”
Then, the therapist points out how for the last one-and-a-half years pandemic-induced isolation has converted a happy human society into one filled with loneliness, burnout, stress and anxiety. “One of the factors determining mental health is how well the mind gets rest and deep sleep. Various studies conducted in our institute indicate that people lack these today. Despite being digitally connected, people are lonely and lacking affection and connection. Again, loneliness acts as a silent health killer.”
Agreeing that almost every section of society, especially healthcare professionals, children, students, corporate employees, businessmen, etc. has been affected by the pandemic, Snehal adds that there’s been an increasing need for meditation, yoga sessions and online detox programmes to rid the mind of stress, anger and fear. “One needs to calm and cleanse the mind, allowing the removal of exhausting emotional sediments,” Snehal adds. “Through our free-of-cost healthcare HeartInTune app, our trainers have been providing guided meditation so that people take it up as a de-stressing technique for mental health.”