India didn’t prioritize mental health before Covid-19. Now it’s paying the price – Health News Today

“The worst are the headaches and the pain in my eyes,” said Paul, who lives in Kolkata, West Bengal. “I have had more panic attacks this year than in my entire life combined.”

Research conducted by the Suicide Prevention in India Foundation (SPIF) in May found that nearly 65% of 159 mental health professionals surveyed reported an increase in self-harm among their patients. More than 85% of therapists surveyed said they were experiencing caregiver fatigue, and over 75% said fatigue had impacted their work.

Another survey in April, by the Indian Psychiatric Society, showed that, of 1,685 participants, 40% were suffering from common mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression, due to the pandemic.

The lockdown may have eased, but the situation isn’t improving. The report’s authors told CNN in August that there’s growing anxiety and uncertainty about when the pandemic will end.

Before Covid-19, India had the highest suicide rate in south-east Asia — now medical experts say the country’s mental health system is being pushed to the limit.

“The system was already creaking and overburdened, now with Covid, we are experiencing the catastrophe of increased demand, woeful supply, and fatigued frontline workers,” said Nelson Moses, founder of SPIF.

No words for mental health

India doesn’t have a long history of discussing mental health.

In 2016, a National Mental Health Survey conducted across 12 states documented a list of over 50 derogatory terms used for people suffering mental illness. “Usually, the public believes that individuals with psychiatric illnesses are incompetent, irrational and untrustworthy consequently, they have low marriage opportunities,” said one of the participants.

“People think that talking about your feelings makes you weak — there are a lot of misconceptions,” said 23-year-old Baldev Singh, a volunteer counselor with the MINDS Foundation, an Indian nonprofit that aims to reduce the stigma around mental health.

Experts say the historical reluctance to address mental health in India could be partly due to a lack of terminology. None of India’s 22 languages have words that mean “mental health” or “depression.”

“People think that talking about your feelings makes you weak — there are a lot of misconceptions.”Baldev Singh, volunteer counselor

While there are terms for sadness (udaasi), grief (shok) or devastation (bejasi) in Urdu and other Indian languages, the specific terminology to address different mental illnesses is lacking. That’s because the practice of psychiatry is largely Western, said Dr S.K. Chaturvedi, Head of department at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) in Bangalore.  “It is easier for people to talk about physical symptoms and illnesses than to express to their families that they are feeling low or depressed,” he said.

Growing up, Paul says her middle-class Indian family didn’t talk about negative feelings.

“Ever since I was a kid it was…

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