Stress, self-injuries and suicide: India battles mental health crisis as COVID tally spikes
New Delhi, Sep 13 (PTI) Hemmed inside their homes for months on end as a pandemic raged outside, millions of people are emerging timorously into a world that has drastically changed — an uneasy adjustment process resulting in a spectrum of mental health issues ranging from depression to that final step, suicide.
The dread of contracting the disease combined with the realisation that the incidence of COVID-19 spiralled instead of being contained in the lockdown and that the days of suspending life as they knew it could extend indefinitely has been profoundly disturbing for many.
Add to this new normal, ill-health, joblessness, financial crises and the everyday stresses that people anyway had to deal with and the COVID-19 tunnel stretches dark and seemingly endless with no light at the end of it.
This prolonged uncertainty has led people to feel a lot more anxious. So people who were on a mild anxiety spectrum earlier have moved to moderate and severe anxiety. When anxiety gets severe, the kinds of behaviour of self harm increase, said Arvinder Singh, psychologist, psychotherapist and director of the Ashoka Centre for Well-Being in New Delhi.
As India’s COVID-19 tally crossed 47.5 lakh with 94,372 new cases reported on Sunday, Singh’s concerns find echo across the country.
The worries are rooted in reports of more people inflicting injuries on themselves, several ending their lives and many complaining of depression and severe anxiety.
In Gujarat, for instance, the 108 emergency ambulance service received about 800 cases of “self injuries” and 90 cases of suicide in April, May, June and July, officials said. The numbers began to spike soon after the nationwide lockdown, which came into effect on March 25.
Vikas Bihani, 108 service official, said the suicide prevention and counselling helpline usually got around eight to nine calls per month but the numbers have doubled since March.
Between March and August, we got 142 calls from depressed people. A majority of the callers were facing economic, family or mental health related issues and wanted to end their lives, he said.
Some people who test positive for coronavirus inflict injuries on themselves because they cannot tolerate “disappointment”, B N Gangadhar, director of the Bangalore-based National Institute of Mental Health and Neurological Sciences (NIMHANS), told PTI.
His colleague V Senthil Kumar Reddi, coordinator at NIMHANS’ department of psychiatry, said the reasons behind cases of self-inflicting injuries need to be studied.
Gujarat-based psychologist Prashant Bhimani said the economic crisis is fuelling “suicidal thoughts”.
“There is a 70 per cent increase in the number of patients suffering from depression and obsessive compulsive disorder due to the coronavirus. People are worried about what will happen to them if they contract the coronavirus, he added.
Though there are no exact figures, the anecdotal evidence of people choosing to end their lives is mounting.
Just last week, a newly married couple were found hanging in their home in Panipat. Aawed (28) and his wife Nazma (19) had got married barely a month back, according to reports.
Aawed was upset at losing his job as a welder during the lockdown and was hoping to get work in the unlock period. But that did not happen and he got increasingly desperate, his brother Jawed was reported as saying.
In Uttar Pradesh, migrant labourers Chutku and Rambabu ended their lives in their village in Banda. Both had no work and were stressed, their family members said.
The distress cuts across classes.
In Barabanki, 37-year-old Vivek whose business had failed allegedly poisoned his wife and three children before hanging himself at his home.
In the national capital, two brothers, both in their 40s, were found hanging in their jewellery shop in Chandni Chowk. They left behind a suicide note, apologising to their families and citing financial crisis as the reason behind the extreme step.
And sometimes, it’s just about the disease.
A 50-year-old man in Odisha’s Bolangir district, for instance, allegedly killed himself by jumping into a well after his nephew tested positive. He feared he might also have contracted COVID-19.
The stories of mounting stress and the inability to handle it are many and from all parts of the country.
There are common anxiety issues like whether they have contracted Covid. People feel anxious if they have a common cold or cough. They are also worried about jobs, economy and EMIs. They are worried about the uncertainty of the future.” said Samir Parikh, director, Mental Health and Behavioural Science, Fortis Healthcare,
The numbers of patients being referred to the psychiatry department of Lucknow’s King George’s Medical University has gone up significantly, said Adarsh Tripathi, additional professor at the department.
“Economic activities came to a halt, businesses shut down. Besides, insecurity about the future, jobs, marriages and education all had a direct psychological impact, he added.
In Tripathi’s view, the 15-25 age group is most vulnerable to self-harm and suicidal ideas.