The coronavirus lockdown which has effectively imprisoned an entire country is now nearly three months old and the WHO has warned that there are risks of a global mental health crisis. In a statement, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres pointed out that decades of underinvestment in mental health means that the pandemic is hitting families and communities hard; and grief, anxiety and depression will continue affecting populations even after the pandemic ends.
The major contributing factors to the worsening mental health during the lockdown is the confinement at home and the inability to socially interact with friends, colleagues and loved-ones as before. Another major contributor, according to the UN, is the uncertainty around employment prospects with thousands being laid off or furloughed. Those who survived have faced pay cuts. The fear of contracting the virus and or spreading to loved-ones is also a cause for stress amongst the people and these issues are mounting rapidly. The UN has urged countries to include access to psychosocial support and emergency mental care in all aspects of their response to the pandemic.
Mental health has not only been pushed to the bottom of our largely ignored health sectors, but it also suffers from societal disregard with stigmas attached. This makes the acknowledgement of mental health issues problematic and further hinder seeking help. Thankfully, the emergence of tele- and e-health services may make access to mental health professionals easy, especially in these tough times when a physical visit is riddled with so many threats. At the government level, there is a need to create greater awareness about mental health in general. And just as SOPs have been issued for people to venture out of their homes in relative safety, a set of SOPs should also be issued for people to watch out for signs of mental stress and depression in them and those around them.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2020.
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