Mass level mental health support and education needed during pandemic time: Experts at IHW Council’s web summit

Lauding the successful observations of ‘Janata Curfew’, show of solidarity with COVID-19 warriors through applause and lightening of symbolical lamps to fight the darkness of despair caused by ongoing pandemic, leading mental health experts today emphasized on the need of undertaking a mass level public education drive on mental wellbeing in this ‘extraordinary’ and ‘unusual’ situation to help people stay positive and prevent them from resorting to self-harm, domestic violence or substance abuse solutions to anxiety or depression.

The virtual summit on mental health care during the coronavirus pandemic, organized by the Integrated Health and Wellbeing (IHW) Council, was attended by Dr. Samir Parikh, Director, Mental Health & Behavioral Sciences, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Dr. B. N. Gangadhar, Director, National Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences, NIMHANS, Bangalore, and Dr. Rajiv Mehta, Vice Chairperson, Institute of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, among others.

IHW Councils web summit - online conference 3

“Messaging is important, it should reach the right people in right manner with its positivity that instills a sense of social responsibility. If the PM has been able to make a few million people switch off lights, light candles at 9PM, we can also make sure that the message of why we are doing and what we are doing reaches the people. I am consistently coming across people who are happy to take part in their social responsibility. In the world today, we end up magnifying our negative experiences. If the role models, medical experts, government, media, RWAs, panchayat leaders, anganwadi – if everyone takes the message, people will comply,” said Dr. Samir Parikh, Director, Mental Health & Behavioral Sciences, Fortis Memorial Research Institute.

Mental health practitioners also highlighted that the needs of people from different sections of the society will be different and should be addressed innovatively.

“This is an extraordinary and unusual situation but the reactions are very usual though concerns of a different section of the society such as the construction workers or slum dwellers are far different and simpler – like how do I get food, what if I get ill with the virus you are fighting, how long will this continue, and such. We need to reach out to these large number of people outside digital media, through volunteers, as these are the people who need a lot of reassurance. We should recognize that the need of different people in different groups are different. We should create a group of volunteers who could reach out to different groups of people in a very short time,” said Dr. B. N. Gangadhar, Director, National Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences, NIMHANS, Bangalore.

More than 100 people have died in India since the first case was reported in January this year. The pandemic triggered a slew of measures by the Government of India to contain the spread of virus into the country including a nation-wide lockdown that began on 26th March, 2020.

According to experts, the unabated destruction being caused by the pandemic across the globe and growing concerns on life and livelihood can severely impact the mental health condition of people which may further aggravate due to sense of confinement during the ongoing lockdown.

“Mass awareness can be created by those who have a larger system at their disposal, such as media and government agencies. Media is doing a fabulous job. PM Modi asked us to lit diyas and people followed it. So, in case of mental health too, someone higher-up in the government needs to talk about mental health issues, what affects mental health, the signs and symptoms of mental health and the positive and negative ways out. Just like a child should not have fast food when he is hungry and get right food, those who are suffering from anxiety or depression should not take to drugs but seek help from mental health professionals,” said Dr. Rajiv Mehta, Vice Chairperson, Institute of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.

Talking about reaching maximum number of people and how to prepare for it, Dr. Gangadhar said, “There is an urgent need to democratize mental health and make everyone a part of it – mental health should be a public health domain where people can talk about well-being. Anyone who has some issue should reach out to the nearest general practitioner or a public health dispensary – I hope that states will make arrangements so that medicines are available. The general practitioner can use telemedicine – NIMHANS has a telemedicine facility and under the current circumstances, gearing up and hoping this becomes successful. But no one system will be enough – use all these challenges as an opportunity to develop a better health system for the people.”

The web-based session was the second in the series of virtual summits being held by the IHW Council, a premier think tank that advocates for a healthy world through multilateral stakeholder engagement.

Mr. Kamal Narayan, CEO, IHW Council said, “We are relentlessly making efforts to address various aspects of health, especially those which continues to remain outside the ambit of popular discourse. The enormous stigma associated with mental health and conditions related to it makes a discussion with experts the need of the hour. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we are thrown into a completely uncharted and hostile situation and the inevitable lockdown has caused different hardships to different people. While daily wagers are concerned about their livelihood, students are worried about their futures. Unless addressed on time, this could increase India’s disease burden manifold. We will bring another session on mental health on Thursday what coronavirus lockdown means for India’s Mental Health.”

“At the moment we are talking about training and development for simple things like distress to eustress using the Albert Ellis Model. We have trained about 500 volunteers and the reason we could come to that number is because of our extensive use of social media to spread the message. Organizations such as YMCA and Rotary Club are aligned with us and we have managed to get people of various background to learn these basic and simple skills,” said Ms. Prakriti Poddar, managing trustee, Poddar Foundation, which has started a free hotline Wellbeing Volunteers United (WVU) to help people mental health issues due to ongoing pandemic.

The experts also highlighted that couples can use the lockdown period to reconnect with their partners and redefine their relationships, which was affected by a busy work-life schedule. Those who are living with their elderly parents or parents who are living with their young or grown-up children should enjoy the proximity to strengthen their bond, they said. Other esteemed speakers on the panel included Dr. Nimesh G. Desai, Director, Institute of Human Behavior and Allied Sciences, Delhi, Dr. Indla Ramasubba Reddy, Director, Indlas VIMHANS Hospital, Dr. Sameer Malhotra, Head – Department of Mental Health & Behavioral Science, Max Hospital, Prof Pankaj Gupta, President IIHMR University, Dr. S K Deuri, Director, Lokopriya Gopinath Bordoloi Regional Institute of Mental Health, Tezpur, and Dr. Roma Kumar, Senior Consultant at the Institute of Child Health, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.

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