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‘No systematic plan to deal with this epidemic of panic’

Experts say Covid-appropriate behaviour, vaccination and double masking key tools, be mentally prepared for long haul

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Pune |
May 5, 2021 10:39:55 pm
Covid-19 India Second Wave, psychiatrists, mental health, COVID-19 pandemic, health minister Rajesh Tope, covid-19 cases in Pune, Pune coronavirus cases, Pune news, indian expressCovid-19 patients at the Covid Care Centre at Burari in New Delhi. (Express Photo By Amit Mehra)

Despite early signs of the second wave of Covid-19 waning in some pockets of the state, mental health experts have urged people to buckle up and be prepared for a long haul. “This is not going to be over in a month or two,” Dr Soumitra Pathare, consultant psychiatrist and director of Centre for Mental Health, Law and Policy at Indian Law Society, said. Several experts have also cautioned that more needed to be done to address mental health consequences of the pandemic, besides setting up helplines and listing advisories on how to cope.

State health minister Rajesh Tope indicated recently that a decline in daily new positive cases was being observed in 15 districts since lockdown-like restrictions were imposed a fortnight ago. Mental health experts, however, have cautioned that there were no magical solutions to end this pandemic. Apart from getting the Covid-19 vaccine, staying away from crowds and double masking, people needed to be ready for a long haul, Dr Pathare said. “We need to buckle up for a long haul. Covid pandemic is not like a 100 m sprint, more like a marathon. We need to fundamentally alter our attitude and way of living,” he added.

“We have crossed the worst and we need to do simple things properly, which includes Covid-appropriate behaviour,” he said, adding that there could be a third wave and, hence, people had to be mentally prepared.

Stress, anxiety and depression go hand in hand with the Covid-19 pandemic. According to noted psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty, who has extensive experience in working with victims of disasters, there was an “epidemic of panic”. The expert also flagged concerns over meagre attention towards mental health consequences of the pandemic. “Apart from starting a few helplines, listing advisories on how to cope with stress and anxiety, there has been no systematic plan to deal with this epidemic of panic,” Dr Shetty told The Indian Express.

He said Covid-19 task forces had not included mental health professionals. Concerted plans to deal with the mental health epidemic must be considered for those who lose family members to Covid-19, he added.

“There is bound to be trauma, especially as the family member tackles feelings like guilt, sadness, anger and fear. For instance, there is no closure for families where their loved ones have been cremated without proper rites or even the impact of death of ICU patients on healthcare workers. Where is the concrete plan to address these issues?” he asked.

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Dr Shetty also said there was a need to provide care to people suffering from psychological distress. According to him, mental health is better when there is a perception of safety and, often, non-psychiatric interventions work. Not everyone needed psychotherapy, he added.

Mental health concerns and treatment usually take a backseat when limited resources are geared for pandemic containment, experts have said in International Journal of Social Psychiatry. Much before the Covid-19 pandemic, a report in December 2019 in The Lancet Psychiatry said between 1990 and 2017, one in seven people in the country have suffered from mental illness ranging from depression, anxiety to severe conditions like schizophrenia.

State Covid-19 task force member Dr Shashank Joshi also urged people to stay positive. “There is a feeling of helplessness, but we need to be positive as there is light at the end of the tunnel. There has to be zero crowding for the next six months. With Covid-appropriate behaviour, vaccination and double masking you can start rewiring life in the digital space to a connected world with a lot of cheer and positivity,” he said.

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