Fighting The Silent Pandemic Of Poor Mental Health

Mental health is just not the absence of mental disorders or disabilities.

Observed internationally since 1992, The World Mental Health Day’s theme for 2021 was “Mental health care for all: let’s make it a reality.” At this juncture, it is critical to analyse the progress that we have achieved so far in fighting the silent pandemic of poor mental health.

Mental health is just not the absence of mental disorders or disabilities. The WHO defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” Unfortunately, many countries have been grappling with the challenge of poor mental health for the past several years — estimates by the WHO suggest that mental illnesses constitute nearly 15% of the total disease conditions worldwide. A study conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research estimated that about one in every seven individuals in India suffered from mental disorders (primarily depression and anxiety disorders) of varying severity in 2017. Also, a report by the National Crime Records Bureau notes that India registered nearly 381 suicide cases every day in 2019.

More recently, the Covid-19 pandemic has aggravated the pre-existing mental health crisis in several parts of the world. Vulnerable groups such as health and frontline workers, people with prior mental health conditions, and people living alone have been particularly affected. According to a joint report published by the International Labour Organization and the Asia Development Bank, as many as 4.1 million individuals lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The loss of livelihood coupled with social exclusion contributed to increased cases of anxiety, depression, insomnia, substance abuse, and intimate partner violence. Millions of people have lost or fear losing their loved ones to the deadly Coronavirus. Psychiatrists are noticing a surge in panic attacks, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorders, paranoia, and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorders) in recent times. Accordingly, the results of a recent study conducted by

the Indian Psychiatry Society are not surprising, wherein a 20% increase in patients with mental health illnesses has been recorded since the Covid-19 outbreak.

A variety of steps could be taken to address the prevailing mental health crisis. First, Yoga can help us in improving our mental health. Research published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice notes that Yoga can be a helpful complementary treatment for clinical depression or major depressive disorders. Given the numerous mental health benefits of Yoga, Prime Minister Sh. Narendra Modi recently launched a mobile application, ‘WHO M-Yoga,’ which provides videos of Yoga training and practice. Such fusions of modern technology and ancient science can help us achieve better mental health, especially during the ongoing pandemic. Second, the WHO has developed new material, in easy-to-read formats, on how one can take care of one’s mental health and provide support to others. The popular press and social media platforms like WhatsApp, YouTube, and Twitter could be leveraged for the widespread circulation of this material. Doing so would reduce the stigma around mental health and help raise societal awareness of the actionable interventions that may be performed to improve mental health. Finally, more companies could invest in the delivery of mental healthcare as a part of their corporate social responsibility initiatives. To begin with, companies can tie up with health organizations and ensure the provision of telehealth services (by certified psychologists and psychiatrists) to their employees. Larger companies could extend mental health support to more distant stakeholders by setting up mental health facilities that hire licensed professionals (for therapy and counselling services) and offer nominally-priced healthcare services online and offline. Companies like Infosys, TCS, Aditya Birla Group, and ITC Limited have already come forward for such initiatives. More companies need to follow suit to scale up the delivery of quality mental healthcare. It is hoped that such initiatives would spearhead India’s fight against poor mental health and help make mental health care accessible to everyone.

The author is an Assistant Professor at Great Lakes Institute of Management, Gurgaon. Views expressed are personal.

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Mental Health The silent pandemic


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