The Maharashtra government-run health helpline – 104 – has attended to 1,901 calls between April and September, of which 688 were from callers complaining of anxiety and stress, while 133 were for depression and mood-related disorders.
Another 60 callers had dialled 104, which also functions as a mental health helpline and Covid-19 helpline, to speak about relationship problems, said Niraja Banker, senior manager of operations at Piramal Swasthya, which jointly operates the 104 helpline with the state government.
“Initially, we got calls about how people undergoing treatment for mental illness were unable to get medicines, queries about what Covid-19 was all about… now, with easing of lockdown restrictions, there is a different type of anxiety in stepping out of the home. One of the frequent questions that callers ask is ‘will I be safe while boarding a bus or train’…,” said Banker.
Dr Kaustubh Joag, a consultant psychiatrist, said during the pandemic, the levels of anxiety and depression have increased for those who have an existing mental illness.
“Not being able to follow up with a psychiatrist led to a relapse for people with severe mental health issues,” said Dr Joag, adding, “Most of the calls pertain to anxiety, followed by depression and panic attacks. The main difference is that 50 per cent are new patients while 50 per cent old patients have not come to the clinic for a follow-up.”
The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day, observed on October 10, is increased investment in mental health.
An editorial in The Lancet, to mark the day, stated that 2020 has been a difficult year for mental health. “The threat of infection, repeated lockdowns, social isolation and economic uncertainty have created widespread fear and anxiety,” according to The Lancet authors.
Dr Hamid Dabholkar, a psychiatrist with Parivartan Trust, which is known for its work in the area of mental health, said that the Trust has launched a peer and caregiver support group of like-minded volunteers, who are willing to work for patients.
“Every week, these people assemble together and perform various activities in the form of theatre, songs and drama, which offers a platform for patients with mental health problems, to share stories and information about their own emotions,” said Dr Dabholkar.
According to Dr Smita Panse, associate professor at the Department of Psychiatry at the Post Graduate Institute of YCM Hospital, at least 50 per cent of their health care workers had high stress levels. “We have conducted a host of activities, including group counselling, using audio-visual aids, setting up psycho-social counselling centre for relatives and ensuring weekly relaxation sessions for stress management,” said Dr Panse.
Dr Sanjay Kumawat, consulting psychiatrist who has been counselling Covid-19 patients, has also conducted online sessions for healthcare workers on how to deal with stress levels. “We have prepared a series of topics across a web platform, on how to be responsible netizens to taking up mindful techniques and alleviate stress,” said Dr Kumawat.
Concern over delay in getting help for children
Psychiatrists have raised concerns about delay in getting help, especially for children, as the usual referral system of school and paediatricians is not completely functional due to the pandemic. Child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr Bhooshan Shukla, said there was a likelihood of missing out on people with genuine mental illnesses.
“Therapies have been delayed. A six to eight-month delay is huge, especially for a three or four-year-old child with development difficulties,” said Dr Shukla.
“Initially, for the first three months of the Covid pandemic, children with development difficulties have stayed home without accessing help. On a positive note, those with difficulties relating to socialisation and study pressure seemed to have coped better,” Dr Shukla said, adding that clinical practice, which had gone down to 10 per cent in March, has now picked up to at least 70 per cent.
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