COVID-19 and its Psychological Impact in India: Paving the way for effective policies 

The outbreak of COVID -19 has made the general public’s mental health a primary concern to be addressed (Arevian, et al., 2020). Jeopardized mental health and increasing psychological distress are considered the parallel epidemic brewing alongside the COVID -19 (Vigo, et al., 2020). Social distancing and isolation have led to various problems such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and increased stress. Job loss, lay-offs, job insecurity, salary-cuts, fear of contraction of the disease, concern of family members have further worsened the mental health scenario (Das, 2020). Though India’s Government is taking every step possible to contain the disease outbreak, little attention is being paid to the mental health crisis looming along with this health pandemic.

Physical distancing and quarantine measures led to less socialization, thus resulting in loneliness and social isolation. This especially adversely affected children and adolescents’ psychological health and older adults who could not connect to people either in the form of going to school, or community centres, clubs, etc. Working men and women could connect to colleagues through virtual ways; however, occupational mental health still deteriorated. Employees witnessed blurring lines of personal and work life, decreased job satisfaction, domestic violence and abuse as a repercussion. The migrant workers resorted to reverse migration due to job cuts and lockdown (Das, 2020). Financial constraints and the absence of family support have made internal migrant workers a vulnerable population for psychological distress (Choudhari, 2020).

Mental health is as important as physical health during COVID-19 (Das, 2020). Western countries have already included psychological interventions in their disease protocols; however, it has not been considered by many countries. The USA government provides insurance coverage for mental health issues; however, the surge in COVID cases has doomed the mental health system, which is considered the world’s most efficient one (Fitzpatrick, Harris, & Drawve, 2020). Chilean government issued a practical guide for the public to ensure emotional well-being during COVID-19 (Caqueo-Urízar, et al., 2020). Chinese government included psychological distress interventions in their protocol of epidemic (Yao, et al., 2020). The Indian Ministry of Health has provided a toll-free helpline to ensure behavioural health assistance during pandemic times; however, the measure seems  inadequate (Ghosh & Chatterji, 2020).

There is an urgent need for a prevention-oriented public mental health strategy (Arevian, et al., 2020). The major challenge faced by the Indian mental health system is the lack of awareness about mental health issues. Though Mental Healthcare Act 2017 is in place in India, it caters to the individuals suffering from mental illnesses, not including directives for enhancing the mental health of the public in general. Expansion of mental health facilities in the form of the increased number of mental health professionals, counsellors, psycho-therapists is the need of the hour. Since COVID-19 calls for social distancing and isolation measures, online resources are an important tool to achieve optimal mental health during pandemic times. The development of guided meditation apps, yoga apps, self -journaling apps should be encouraged, which are known to have positive mental health effects (East, 2015). If provided for free, these apps can serve as a handy tool to revamp mental health not just in the COVID-19 context but also in the long term. More awareness needs to be spread about the importance of mental health. The general public should be made aware that developing mental health problems during COVID-19 is normal and should not be marginalized or ignored, as it can turn into a serious disorder.

Special focus should be on the public who have contracted COVID-19 or are undergoing isolation due to disease (Arevian, et al., 2020). Regular counselling sessions and therapy sessions should be given to such patients. Mental Health curriculums should be developed and made mandatory for the students of the school who are joining the classes of school and colleges, either offline or online. These suggested measures can be incorporated to combat psychological distress and uplift mental well-being in these tumultuous times.

The author of the above article is Ms. Himani Mishra who is a Research Scholar at Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, New Delhi.

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