My View of the Pandemic as a Mental Health Worker in India

Pooja Priyamvada
An Indian man wearing a mask
An Indian man wearing a mask

In India, the recent coronavirus outbreak has hit our society in multiple ways. We are 1.37 billion people, most of us live too close together and our social fabric is such that public hygiene has never been much of a priority, so in the face of this new pandemic, both social distancing and the other measures the prevention demands like washing hands frequently, sanitizing surfaces or keeping public places less crowded are options logistically almost impossible for India other than via a complete lockdown.

So, we are in a complete lockdown that started end of March. Thousands of our unorganized workers have been crowding in various cities in their attempts to go back home as there is fear, disinformation and lack of resources for them where they are. Many hotspots and clusters were given a communal color by troublemakers and even some media which led to people hiding their symptoms and not coming forth if they were part of the chain of transmission. There has been a rise in domestic violence and child abuse cases too.

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Another underlying strain that nobody is talking about is the psychosocial impact of these tragedies on these people and even passive bystanders like me. I offer psychological first aid and in my community of other mental healthcare providers, we realized that this pandemic was also directly or indirectly pushing people even to the brink of suicide. We started compiling a list of such incidents here. In our own practices, active listening groups and one-on-one interactions, we also realized how little mental health support is in India and how nobody is even talking about a lot of ways in which this could be intersecting with the entire tragedy.

Are we able to offer some support to our frontline workers?

Is there any such support for survivors or those who lost dear ones to this pandemic?

Is there a system to redress the psychosocial challenges of those battling visible/invisible disabilities?

Is there a system for those who already have a mental health challenge?

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These are questions we have no specific answers for. Many helplines have come up, but the sheer size of our population and the fact that most do not have online literacy or access to smartphones makes it a hurdle.

If there is one word to define it from my personal mental health point of view it would be — overwhelmed.

So what do I suggest?

  • Judicious use of resources whatever they are.

  • Sharing of correct information and resources.

  • More training in psychological first aid.

  • More active listeners.

  • Compassion for those less privileged in any way.

This pandemic seems like a long haul and in India where we grow up and are used to crowds everywhere, this lockdown and social distancing are manifesting in strange ways and making more and more people anxious and sad. Let us hope at least some health is restored soon and we are soon writing in a post-almost-apocalyptic world.

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