The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has enveloped the whole world, devastating lives and traumatizing people. People have fallen prey to this virus and the number is rising up extraordinarily with time. The causative virus has been named SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2).
There is a growing disquiet among people of all ages as the incessant updates about COVID-19 have already started to take a toll on their psychological and mental health. With the closure of offices, universities, colleges, schools, etc., it is in the fitness of things to foresee a substantial rise in unease, depression, isolation, domestic violence, etc. Employees are concerned about their employment, students are worried about their studies, economy is in distress, in fact, life in general has come to a halt with; everyone looking for answers and remedies.
The World Health Organization (WHO) released directions on safeguarding mental health during COVID-19 on 18th March, 2020, titled as, "Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak" which were heartily appreciated by the world community. The directions enunciated clear messages for the general population, healthcare workers, team leaders or managers in health facilities, caretakers of children, older adults, people with underlying health conditions and their caretakers and for people in isolation, in order to support their mental and psychosocial health during this pandemic.
Families are in extreme consternation as some of their loved ones are stuck in different parts of the world, country, regions, etc. The thoughts of a family member being in danger or exposed to danger persist in the minds of family members, hence, giving way to significant mental exertion to them. What adds to such distress is the misinformation looming large on the bogus social media handles of people. The propagation of misinformation or fake news is another growing concern which is adversely affecting the psychological and mental well-being of people. A mother, hearing sham updates about surge of COVID-19 patients in an area where her son is stuck, would surely give her a tough time and eventually harm her mental health. Self-reported depression is seeing a substantial rise everywhere. Patients with existing mental health issues such as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) are at possible risk of capturing more anxiety and depression.
Workers in the unorganized sector have lost means of livelihood and are not in a position to provide for their families. The mental pain and agony of such workers is beyond imagination. It is disheartening to see such workers getting engulfed by panic and fear though the Governments have taken steps all over the world in succouring them but are those steps enough to help them come out of this discomfort or did the Governments wait for too long to come up with a noteworthy plan of action, these questions remain in suspended animation.
Doctors are doing a commendable job which must be appreciated profusely but they are also concerned about their safety as they have to work with COVID-19 patients for a significant period of time. They are worried about the fact that they might pass on the disease, if infected, to their family members and hence, are afraid to go back home, which adds extra mental distress to them and their families. Medical healthcare workers including nurses are developing increased and unusual anxiety as well as distress. They are not in a position to sleep well resulting in harmful effects to their physical and mental health. This pandemic has also made their life miserable but they are putting their best foot forward while discharging their duties.
Students are deeply anxious about their future plans and especially those who were about to graduate this year, are bewildered and stressed about their ambitions and goals. Virtual classes are appreciable but can they be a harbinger of productivity, is a question which is on every student's mind. Examinations have been delayed and all this is resultantly, affecting the young minds considerably. Everyone is uncertain about the stretch of this pandemic and people are feeling capricious about it.
The Supreme Court of India has taken steps to address mental issues of children in conflict with law, and children in need of care and protection. In Re: Contagion of COVID-19 Virus in Children Protection Homes, the Supreme Court of India in Suo Moto Writ Petition (Civil) No. 4/2020, issued a slew of directions to prevent the spread of the virus to Child Care Institutions (CCIs) including children in need of care and protection and children in conflict with the law and directed establishment of online help desks and support systems for queries of children for the speedy redressal of their grievances.
As we are witnessing significant surge in anxiety and depression all over the world, time is ripe to build a robust mental healthcare system in line with the Mental Health Care Act, 2017. It has to be our responsibility to read such news only which is authentic and genuine. The source of the information has to be checked at all times and the government has to take steps in curbing rumour-mongering completely. Social media has to be used carefully and cautiously as there are innumerable fake handles spreading false information on such platforms. We have to interact with our family members, elders, and friends constantly and exchange ideas with them so that our mental health remains at peace. Engaging in fruitful activities such as cooking, gardening, reading, playing, writing, etc., have to be undertaken in a more frequent manner. Online counselling sessions on mental health must be organized by schools, colleges, non-governmental organizations, governmental organizations, etc., so that people are encouraged and motivated to lead a peaceful life at this cataclysmic juncture.
One of the worst consequences of the lockdown is the significant surge in the cases of domestic violence. The National Commission for Women has received 587 complaints from March 23 to April 16, out of which 239 are related to domestic violence. The commission has received humongous number of complaints during this lockdown, therefore, there has been an alarming rise in the complaints related to domestic violence which is a matter of grave concern. Women are unable to report cases of domestic violence as the lockdown continues to be in place. The increased number of cases related to domestic violence are not only due to the confinement of people at their homes during this lockdown but it is also due to the mental suffering, loss of jobs, reduced income, limited resources, and limited social support followed by hunger and poverty.
Mental health effects of domestic violence are much more harmful than the physical effects. Women, as a result of domestic violence and abuse, fall prey to severe depression, stress, anxiety and other problems which affect their mental and psychological well-being. In Re: Court on Its Own Motion v. Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh through Secretaries, Social Welfare Department (16.04.2020), a Division Bench led by Hon'ble Ms. Justice Gita Mittal, Chief Justice, High Court of Jammu & Kashmir, took suo moto cognizance of the cases related to domestic violence and issued notices to the Secretary, Department of Social Welfare, Government of Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, and Member Secretary, Jammu and Kashmir State Legal Services Authority, to submit a report highlighting the steps taken regarding domestic or any other kind of violence being faced by women on account of the implementation of the COVID-19 lockdown. The Hon'ble Bench also issued a slew of measures for the immediate assistance of the victims which are reproduced as under: –
"16. To us, therefore, to grant immediate assistance the following measures come to our mind:
(i) Creation of dedicated funding to address issues of violence against women and girls as part of the COVID-19 response by the Union Territories of the Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh;
(ii) Increased availability of call-in services to facilitate discreet reporting of abuse;
(iii) Increased tele/online legal and counselling service for women and girls;
(iv) Designated informal safe spaces for women, say grocery stores and pharmacies, where they can report domestic violence/abuse without alerting the perpetrators;
(v) Immediate designation of safe spaces (say for instance empty hotels/education institutions etc) as shelters for women who are compelled to leave their domestic situation. These shelters must be treated as accessible shelters;
(vi) Giving urgent publicity to information regarding all of the above measures as also the availability of the facilities for seeking relief and redressal against the issues of domestic violence;
(vii) Increasing awareness campaigns on all aspects of the issues."
Therefore, it is apt to enunciate that mental health issues are growing at a great pace but it is up to us to diminish such a rise by incorporating certain changes in our lifestyle, in our way of thinking, and in our way of dealing with such a devastating pandemic. We are hopeful that this pandemic will cease soon and a new dawn will lighten up our lives again.
Muneeb Rashid Malik is a Law Student