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Karnataka shows how COVID-19 has hit Indians’ mental health and wellbeing

mental health Copyright: silentgunman / 123RF Stock Photo
Image credit: silentgunman / 123RF Stock Photo

Recent reports from Karnataka encapsulate how the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the state of Indians’ mental health and wellbeing.

Reports indicate that the Karnataka state government has treated almost 8,000 people with medication for mental health issues connected to COVID-19 and conducted approximately 480,000 counselling sessions since May. Those counselled and/or treated for mental health issues span a broad range of demographics, from healthcare staffers to migrant labourers.

The data is reflective of a national and, indeed, global issue resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis has impacted the lives of individuals and communities in manifold ways – from the difficulty of adjusting to punishing lockdown restrictions, to social isolation, to bereavement, to the anxiety of unemployment and subsequent loss of income, to displacement. India is far from immune to this phenomenon. The detrimental effects on mental health and wellbeing engendered by the pandemic was amplified by India’s strict lockdown, enacted towards the end of March. As reported by Deutsche Welle

“The nationwide shutdown disrupted the lives of more than 1.3 billion, resulting in mass unemployment and high levels of distress among large sections of the population. Those who didn’t experience mental health obstacles prior to the pandemic have also found problems coping.”

Indeed, even before the pandemic, India bore a substantial burden of disease as it pertains to mental health disorders. In December 2019, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) reported that one in seven Indians were affected by mental health disorders. Since then, with the onset of the pandemic, the figures have increased substantially. 

In May, Health Issues India reported that India registered a twenty percent rise in mental health issues since the outset of the pandemic according to the Indian Psychiatry Society (IPS). At least one in five Indians were believed to be affected. 

Research published towards the end of May concluded that, based on a survey conducted across 64 cities, “during the initial stages of COVID-19 in India, almost one-third [of] respondents had a significant psychological impact. This indicates a need for more systematic and longitudinal assessment of psychological needs of the population, which can help the government in formulating holistic interventions for affected individuals.” The toll of the pandemic on mental health prompted the launch of a helpline to support Indians’ psychological wellbeing as early as late March. 

As my colleague Nicholas Parry wrote for Health Issues India in May, “the country must do more to acknowledge that while the coronavirus is primarily a risk to physical health, the virus, and indeed the circumstances surrounding it have had a profound effect on the mental health of the nation.” We are in August. The message is as apposite as it was then – and is almost certain to continue to be so for the foreseeable future.

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