Covid 19 is a visible pandemic. At least we can see it in a microscope. However what is not visible is the mental catastrophe being created by the pandemic. Literature available today , amply makes it clear that there is an exponential increase in the level of stress, anxiety and depression. The neurosis created by the change in living order and uncertainty about the future has exacerbated existing mental health conditions and also created new cases. Challenge poised by mental health conditions are expected to be a major issue in the world . InIndia even though we have a mental health program as part of the national health policy, we don’t have a robust system of reaching out to the distressed. Stigma is another issue particularly in our educated section of the society which is another challenge. Lack of availability of adequate no of mental health professionals and Councillors is another issue.
Why there is an increase in episodes or relapses in mental health condition is an important point to think through. While there are many direct reasons associated to uncertainty, job losses, economic woes, recession , domestic issues etc, a psycho dynamic approach of how these issues affect anxiety and depression is a point to be understood. We all live in a society which has made a framework of expectation and value. Expectation means what another individual expects from us in terms of his/her needs. The expectation of your family and society which includes your colleagues at work on what they want from you both tangible and intangible is taken by us as part of ourselves. This means if we provide what we are expected we get a value or image based on which we feel secure. So in a social interaction process we have made milestones of value which we need to reach or obtain to make us feel secure about ourselves. In other words we have created our notions of self security based on external inputs, recognition and acceptance. Philosophically speaking, this is absolutely not our true self but a false self on which we live. A pandemic disrupts this self because pandemic blocks the order of events and status quo of our identity, creating flight or fight syndrome, which activates our nervous system to react thereby exasperating the psychiatric conditions. We know that when we feel threatened or insecure we have an inbuilt mechanism to fight for security or fly for security. This activity is involuntary based on the emotional reactivity of a tiny organ in the brain called amygdala which reacts to the new set of data and information from our sensory organs. It is this reactivity on a global scale that will now create a new invisible pandemic of mental distress. However the question is how are we prepared for this pandemic in a stigmatized society? Well the answer is enhancing the activity of the mental health initiatives with active participation of the stakeholders. The mental health program of the government of India needs to re-look on issues erupting post the pandemic and take necessary steps few of which are recommended here.
First is a series of anti stigmatization campaigns encouraging people to come forward with their distress. Secondly facilitating mental health awareness programs across various sectors of the society and economy and sensitive the decision makers to come up with programs and policies. Thirdly capacity building of existing mental health infrastructure. Lastly encouraging the usage of technology platforms for interaction of the distressed with Councillors.
It is high time that we realize that the invisible pandemic and its consequences is as equal to the visible one.