New Delhi: Healthcare experts on Sunday underlined the need for more psychiatrists and developing a support system to tackle mental health issues which they said worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the eve of World Mental Health Day, they said the problem has grown rapidly and Covid contributed in bringing the topic out of the closet.
Poonam Muttreja, executive director, Population Foundation of India, noted that although Covid contributed to bringing the topic of mental health out of the closet, the current crisis started developing well before the pandemic.
"Mental health problems have been growing rapidly over the last few decades, but our infrastructure has remained woefully inadequate," she said.
The World Health Organization reported in 2017 that there were about 9,000 psychiatrists practising in India, which equates to 0.75 per cent per lakh of people.
WHO estimates that the ideal ratio is three psychiatrists for every lakh of people. Similarly, India has 1.93 mental health care professionals per 10,000 residents, compared to the global average of 6.6, Muttreja said.
Calling COVID-19 a great disruptor of people's lives with its uncertainties and the economic recessions, Muttreja said women, young people and disadvantaged communities have been much worse hit due to the potential loss of income and work, school shutdowns and an increase in domestic violence and household work for women during lockdowns.
"Serious mental disease patients depend on routine care. For many who require such ongoing care, the shutdowns were disastrous. Although the full effects have not yet been documented, they seem to be pervasive and quite palpable for many of us," she added.
World Mental Health Day is observed on October 10 every year for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma.
A 2022 WHO report mentioned that there was a 25 per cent increase in anxiety and depression among people.
Dr Samir Parikh, director, Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences at Fortis Healthcare suggested ways to tackle mental health issues.
Ensuring that one invests in relationships and support system, need to collectively prioritise mental health, creating awareness and access as well as early identification were among solutions suggested by Parikh.
Dr. Saurabh Mehrotra, senior consultant, Institute of Neurosciences at Medanta Hospital in Gurugram said when Covid caught people off guard, they were all taken aback by the rising mortality rate; it was portrayed as a deadly disease with no effective treatment.
Anxiety about one's own and other family members' health became a prominent cause of anxiety increase. Also, this was the first time we had been hit by a virus with such high mortality, and people had never experienced lockdown before. So we were forced to do things we had never done before, he said.
Mehrotra said Covid increased people's reliance on the digital world and social media and were exposed to a lot of unverified information which resulted in a significant increase in anxiety and depressive disorders.
"We also noticed an increase in anger and irritability in some people. Some people were so afraid of being infected by the virus that they went overboard to maintain hygiene, started washing their hands and using hand sanitizers excessively, which led to compulsive disorder in some people. These are some of the reasons for the rise in mental health disorders since the pandemic," he said.
The transition from having a routine, familiar school environment and playing, to having no friends to spend time with and being confined at home had a significant impact on children, he noted.
"We are also receiving reports of children suffering from psychological disorders. Furthermore, because all of their education was confined to online classes, most of the children were given devices for classes, and many of them became addicted to digital devices. Screen addiction in children increased dramatically," he said.
Shyam Bishen - Head of Health and Healthcare at the World Economic Forum - urged stakeholders from the public and private sectors to come together and realise the vision of this year's World Mental Health Day -- to "make mental health and well-being for all a global priority".
An estimated 15 per cent of working-age adults have a mental disorder at any point in time. Depression and anxiety are estimated to cost the global economy USD 1 trillion each year driven predominantly by lost productivity, according to the WHO.