“Mental health problems don’t define who you are. They are something you experience. You walk in the rain and you feel the rain, but you are not the rain.” — Matt Haig
Physical health problems caused by Covid pandemic have overshadowed the mental health problems it has caused. But mental health is as important as physical health. Overall good health requires good physical health as well as good mental health.
People with physical health problems usually seek professional help. But mental health problems have some sort of stigma attached to them and that often deters the affected people from seeking help.
What are mental health problems and how has Covid accentuated these.
What is Mental Health
Mental health is defined as “emotional, psychological, and social well-being.” It affects “how we think, feel, and act; and how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.”
Wellbeing may be defined as feeling good about oneself and about life. Wellbeing is a subjective term. Therefore, it cannot be objectively measured.
Mental health problems affect everyone. The children, the young and the old. But the young and the old tend to have better mental health than the middle aged.
The problems can be because of biological factors such as genes and disease, or life experiences and traumas, or family history of mental health problems. The problems usually result from a complex combination of several factors. They develop over a period but may be triggered by a stressful event.
A few of the risk factors for mental illness are living in stressful environment, social isolation, bereavement from losing someone close, unemployment, poverty, debt, illness, diet, substance abuse, and lack of sleep.
How has Covid accentuated mental health problems
Effect of Covid pandemic on mental health is still being researched. But the pandemic has forced lockdowns, social distancing, closure of workplaces and schools, restrictions on places of entertainment and recreation, separation from friends and loved ones, loss of freedom, boredom, job and income loss, fear of being infected and adverse perception of survival, and under-confidence in health services – all these have adversely affected the mental health of individuals. Covid related negative news in print, electronic and social media has aggravated Covid’s adverse impact on mental health.
Researchers are examining whether Covid causes systemic inflammation in the brain. Because this may release chemicals that trigger symptoms such as hallucinations, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thinking. Covid may also cause ‘brain fog’ which makes thinking un-sharp, fuzzy, and sluggish.
Effect of Covid on mental health of public
Surveys in many countries in the world show that Covid has caused relatively high rates of symptoms of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychological distress, and stress in the general population. Women, persons under 40 years age, those with chronic or psychiatric illnesses, and unemployed were at greater risk of these symptom. The rate of incidence of these symptoms is clinically relevant. Therefore, effects of Covid on mental health is an international public health priority.
Mental illness prevalence in India is among the highest in the world. About 14%, that is about 168 million, Indians have mental disorders. Covid pandemic may push the number up to 20%, that is, 240 million. About 2,00,000 Indians commit suicide every year. Already, moderate level of mental illness in many has been pushed up to severe level. And mortality among those with severe mental illness has increased. UNICEF says that mental health and well-being of children and young people in India may be impacted for many years to come. The WHO says that in India mental health will cause economic loss of US $1.03 trillion between 2012-2030. It seems that mental health epidemic is following the Covid pandemic.
The Union Budget 2021-22 allotted only Rs 597 crore for mental healthcare. Out of this, only Rs 40 crore was allotted to National Mental Health Programme (NHMP). That allocation is inadequate to meet India’s mental health requirements, especially considering the added requirements because of Covid pandemic. At present, India, except in Kerala, has one mental health practitioner (MHP) for 100,000 persons. Indian government has acknowledged Covid’s impact on mental health but many a year will pass before adequate facilities can be created by the government. Private sector needs to step in to create mental health facilities.
Selfcare for mental health
Individuals must take care of their mental health. A few simple steps to do that are:
- SLeep: Getting the right amount of sleep is a major selfcare goal. Indians, 93% of them, are sleep deprived. With less sleep, risk of dementia jumps up 30%. Risks of heart attack, stroke, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and other health issues also increase. Above the age of fifty, seven hours of sleep at night is recommended. But oversleeping is also bad. Sleeping more than nine hours a night is linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. A short nap in the afternoon, 30 minutes or so, can be refreshing. Longer nap may interfere with sleep at night. For a good sleep, turn off lights, have silence, have wedge-shaped or memory pillows, and a cooling mattress with breathing fabric.
- Healthy diet. A balanced diet, rich in green and leafy-green vegetables, different colored fruits, and a sprinkling of seeds and nuts is beneficial. Avoid red meat.
- Exercise. Do aerobic exercises like walk, jog, cycle, swim for 45-60 minutes a day, five days a week. Do weight training two days a week.
- Substance use. Avoid tobacco, alcohol, and drugs, and reduce intake of caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea, and sugary colas.
- Yoga. Physical postures (asanas), breath regulation (pranayama), relaxation (abdominal breathing), control of senses (pratyahara), and meditative techniques (dharana, dhyana and samadhi) are beneficial for overall health, and especially for mental health.
- Mindfulness. Practice mindfulness exercises. Engage your senses of touch, sound, sight, smell, and taste. Doing it outdoors is more beneficial.
- Positive thoughts. Have positive thoughts about self and about life.
Mental health is important, especially so in the times of a disaster, or a pandemic like Covid. Positive thoughts about self and about life are the mantra for good mental health.
But as Lori Deschene says, “You don’t have to be positive all the time. It’s perfectly okay to feel sad, angry, annoyed, frustrated, scared and anxious. Having feelings doesn’t make you a negative person. It makes you human.”
- The Early Impact of Covid 19 on Mental Health …
- Mental Health and the Covid-19 Pandemic
Betty Pfefferbaum, M.D., J.D., Carol S. North, M.D., M.P.E.
- Mental health & COVID-19
- COVID-19 and your mental health
- The Mental Health Epidemic: About 56 Million Indians Suffer From Depression
- Mental Health in the times of COVID-19 Pandemic