What about psychiatric disabilities

Virus-induced economic depression is a far greater issue than anything we come across so far in the pandemic crisis
What about psychiatric disabilities
Mubashir Khan for Greater Kashmir

Sajjad Bazaz

Do you know mental illness has been recognized as one of the disabilities under Section 2 (i) of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995? The Act defines mental illness as any mental disorder other than mental retardation.

According to the health experts, mental illness is not by itself a disability, but there is a section of such disabilities which are commonly known as psychiatric disabilities. This section of mental illness significantly interferes with major day to day activities of life. The type, extent, and severity of mental illness symptoms can widely vary from person to person.

In other words, mental illness is described as psychiatric disability when an individual’s ability to function on a daily basis in academic, occupational or social settings, is significantly impacted. In fact, the degree and extent of impairment also constitutes among the important factors in defining mental health disability.

In pre-covid times, statistics about mental health had pegged that one-in-four people in the world would be affected by mental health disorders at some point in their lives. Even a study about mental health disorders revealed that 25 percent of the world’s population would be affected during our lifetime. Health experts and social scientists across the globe had expressed shock on these numbers as they underlined this statistic ‘unbelievably high’.

As far as India is concerned, the situation around mental health issues among varied population segments was already facing a very serious situation that existed even before the pandemic. According to a study by the Global Burden of Disease nearly 200 million people in India have experienced a mental disorder, nearly half of whom suffer from depressive or anxiety disorders. Interestingly, the government’s response to the alarmingly high numbers of mental illness cases was dismal as the expenditure on mental healthcare was less than one percent of the health budget in pre-covid times. Even, this negligible amount has been almost entirely spent on doctors, drugs, and hospitals. The study reveals a shocking fact that “between 70 - 92 percent of mentally sick individuals received no care from any source for their illness.

The outbreak of coronavirus and its twin destructive features leading to never-seen-before health emergencies in the past 100 years and simultaneously steering to the worst ever economic calamity derailing the economy of even the strongest nations have dangerously compounded the mental health issues of one and all. To be precise, the virus wreaked havoc with the mental health of populations when its outbreak led to strict economic lockdowns as the governments were clueless about the behavior of the virus and the infection was spreading fast. The lockdown strategy worked to save millions of lives from getting infected, but created a topsy-turvy situation for businesses and household budgets as millions lost jobs and millions faced drastic cut in their incomes. Then came the phase when vaccines were put in place to contain the spread of the infection. Though vaccination brought confidence back among the scary populations across the geographies on the health front, the economic depression refused to die and the situation is getting scarier as a third wave of the pandemic in Omicron variant has emerged on the scene. In fact, the economic fallout of the pandemic-induced economic lockdowns is biting deeper.

The point is that mental illness has emerged as one of the major disabilities across varied segments of populations. We may be in a denial mode, but the fact is that it’s a frightening time. Despite vaccination, and other treatment protocols in place to remain insulated against the virus, fear continues to grip populations as the worry about health, financial situation, loss of job, loss of income and support services they rely on, is only mounting without any definite time-line of an end in near future.

While staying alert against the infection new variants of the virus, currently the Omicron, hitting the scene, have triggered massive behavioral changes in people, most of the time unwittingly. As the pandemic is rolling out a new norm in almost every aspect of life, there are certain areas where coronavirus-induced changes are translating into a state of fear, high levels of stress, anxiety and many more health hazardous acts. For example, as explained by a psychiatrist friend, cases are mounting where patients are reporting abnormal changes in sleep, eating patterns, lack of concentration and use of drugs to beat their high stress levels. It’s alarming to see that mental health condition of people is worsening to dangerous levels.

While observing the reaction of people to the new norms, changing every now and then, driven by the pandemic, it’s the uncertainty surrounding the virus outbreak which is proving the hardest thing for them to handle. The actual impact of the crisis on individuals with Omicron now on the scene leaves everyone clueless. Nobody exactly knows its time-line to end, or how bad things might get in future. This is what makes the coronavirus-induced crisis a deadly health emergency never seen before. The biggest challenge in the post covid era would be managing anxiety and fears.

In other words, the virus has evoked a number of emotional reactions and unhealthy behaviours in individuals as well as communities. It’s actually a pandemic within a pandemic. A psychiatrist acquaintance while discussing the unnoticed pandemic within pandemic pointed out some of the most common mental health disorders that are showing up in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. He listed some symptoms and if anyone feels showing any of such symptoms, it would be better to consult a medical professional in the concerned field without wasting any time. Generally speaking, uncertainty about the future like the one created by the outbreak of coronavirus disease, always leads to paranoia (fear) among the general masses. The current uncertainty has automatically increased stress and anxiety levels of the people not only about the virus and its health hazards, but the deteriorating economic scenario also affects their mental health. The prolonged anxiety leads to anxiety disorder - a mental health disability.

Precisely, in the ongoing pandemic situation, we find all those symptoms in most of the people that indicate stress on their mental health and medical professionals vouch that today’s anxiety has the full tendency to become a tidal wave in the post-covid crisis. If these apprehensions turn out in practical shape, it would be a huge shock to the healthcare system to cater to this pandemic. Rates of anxiety and depression have steadily risen for years, and people are most of the time in denial mode when it comes to their mental health issues.

In the given situation where mental health issues are on the verge of becoming yet another pandemic, there is an urgent need to address the virus-induced economic depression. A rise in mental health issues will further deteriorate the economic situation as inequalities and poverty will dominate the country. The culture, systems and structures need to be realigned in a way that addresses the mental health issues empathetically. Those vast populations suffering from virus-induced mental issues need hassle-free access to care and support to come out of the mental trauma and live their full potential.

In short, it is high time that government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with specialized focus on mental health come to the aid of people before a full-blown mental health disorder surfaces. Only a planned intervention can help to contain the pandemic with pandemic, which is inevitable

(The views are of the author & not the Institution he works for)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

Greater Kashmir