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COVID-19 and Mental Health: The Pursuit of Happiness

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Pooja Paswan
June 28, 2020

“When life gets you down do you wanna know what you’ve gotta do? Just keep swimming!” —Dory, Finding Nemo

Hell and Heaven are a Mental Construct

With the cities under lockdown and the norm of social distancing being practiced, we have seen an increase in the number of suicides.

All alone, we are left to face our inner demons. We often fail to realize is that it’s not a demon. It is our neglected self, craving for attention, begging for us to listen. But is always drowned in the daily humdrum called LIFE…

During this time, it cab find you alone. You try to ignore it with Netflix, while your “demon” waits patiently till you drop your phone and make a cocktail and suddenly you hear it in your head. You close your mind till you are forced to confront yourself.

The demon we are confronted with is our neglected sense of now. When we come to realize that I, Me and Myself can only exist in the Now, we freak out and panic. It has been ages since we have lived in the NOW.

Correlation of COVID-19 and Mental Health

Unemployment, acute poverty and indebtedness are strongly associated with poor mental health. A recent report documents, “Deaths of despair,” mostly through suicide and substance use, as has been the cause for increased mortality and reduced life expectancy in working-age Americans following the 2008 economic recession. The profound inequality in the United States, coupled with its weak social security net, deeply polarized society and fragmented health care system, are a toxic recipe for a similar surge of deaths of despair on this occasion.

Emerging evidence suggests that the lockdowns and the pivot of healthcare services to this one virus have seriously disrupted mental health treatment in many parts of the world. Access to mental health care—including vital continuing care—has not been available for many people experiencing new-onset episodes of depression and anxiety, or exacerbations of pre-existing mental health problems.

Destigmatize Mental Health

In India, WHO estimates that the burden of mental health problems is to the tune of 2,443 DALYs per 100,000 in the population, and the age-adjusted suicide rate per 100,000 in the population is 21.1. It is estimated that, in India, the economic loss, due to mental health conditions, between 2012- 2030, is 1.03 trillions of 2010 dollars.

The mental health workforce in India (per 100,000 in the population) include psychiatrists (0.3), nurses (0.12), psychologists (0.07) and social workers (0.07).

According to a recent study, the cases of depression, anxiety and suicides is on the rise. Governments are stretched to their limits while tackling the pandemic and its subsequent consequences.

There is a constant taboo against people suffering from clinical mental illness. They are often perceived to be dangerous and a threat. Quite often, we fail to realize that narcissism, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, frequents bouts of rage and depression are signs of mental stress that need care.

Stigma causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control. Worst of all, stigma prevents people from seeking the help they need. For a group of people who already carry such a heavy burden, stigma is an unacceptable addition to their pain. And while stigma has gone down in recent years, the pace of progress has not been quick enough.

Unfortunately, the incidences of suicide indicate that people were under severe mental stress with no outlet for release.

Strengthening the Mental Healthcare Response

Mental health promotion involves actions that improve psychological well-being. This may involve creating an environment that supports mental health. An environment that respects and protects basic civil, political, socio-economic and cultural rights is fundamental to mental health. Without the security and freedom provided by these rights, it is difficult to maintain a high level of mental health.

National mental health policies should be concerned both with mental disorders and with broader issues that promote mental health. Mental health promotion should be mainstream in governmental and nongovernmental policies and programs. In addition to the health sector, it is also essential to involve the education, labor, justice, transportation, environment, housing and welfare sectors.

In the context of national efforts to develop and implement mental health policy, it is vital to not only protect and promote the mental well-being of citizens, but also address the needs of persons with defined mental disorders. The knowledge of what to do about the escalating burden of mental disorders is absolutely essential.

Mind and Body Synchronicity

Every ailment first manifests itself in the psychological form and then in the physiological form. According to the practice of Vipassana meditation, the body will experience various sensations depending on the individual’s state of mind. Thus it requires constant awareness of self, body and mind, in order to observe the present moment. It also ingrains the philosophy of impermanence (Anichya) of any given situation, thus providing the solace of, “This too shall pass.” Over the years, such meditation practices have provided respite from anxiety and mental stress and enabled a considerable tactic for emotional stress management.

The Need for Emotional Security

In the current rapid changing scenario, there is a need for institutional programs to engineer emotional well-being. Educational institutions should design curriculum for building sound mental health. The old taboos and customs associated gender and their subsequent emotional responses needs to be discarded. New emerging societies should now measure success in terms of compassion, kindness and emotional security rather than in terms of money and fame.

Author: Pooja Paswan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, India. She has Ph. D in Public Administration and specializes in Public Policy. She was recipient of the ASPA 2019 Founders Fellow and ASPA 2017 International Young Scholar Program. She has worked extensively in the area of development administration and policy. She can be reached at
https://jmi.academia.edu/PoojaPaswan and [email protected]. Twitter @poojapaswan

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