A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that 7.5 percent of the Indian Urban population suffers from some form of mental disorder. Mental illnesses constitute one-sixth of all health-related disorders and India accounted for nearly 15% of the global mental, neurological and substance abuse disorder burden. The treatment gap, which is defined as the prevalence of mental illnesses and the proportion of patients that get treatment, is over 70 percent. WHO also predicts that by 2020 end, roughly 20 percent of India will suffer from mental illnesses! And to cater to this demographic, we have less than 4,000 mental health professionals.
That’s a lot because we are talking about 1.3 billion population here! Mental problems more in 30–49 age group or over 60; low income, job insecurities, fragile lifestyles linked to the occurrence of mental disorders. Urban population is anyways taking a hit always in spite of attending so many seminars, life coaching – “guru” who heals maybe…!!
As the novel coronavirus spreads across the world, both the fallout from the covid-19 pandemic and the best safeguards we have against it could make that number a lot bigger. Just as we are moving rapidly to safeguard our physical health, we must act with equal urgency to preserve our mental health and make as much as of our psychiatric care accessible.
When it comes to physical health, people are so conscious and aware these days. They know everything there is to know: what super-foods eat and what not to eat, what the latest diet fads are, what the most cutting-edge workouts to stay fit is, and how to monitor every aspect of their health with state-of-the-art fitness bands. But when it comes to mental health, the awareness just isn’t there.
In our country, the discovery of mental illness is often followed by denial and hesitation to seek help. Despite its enormous social burden, mental health remains a taboo subject that is susceptible to age-old stigmas, prejudices and fears. Even though mental disorders can be cured or controlled, most people tend to sweep their issues under the carpet and suffer in silence. Not only do we need to actively foster awareness about mental health, absurdity of the stigmas attached to mental health, in order to eradicate them.
It is important for everyone to get involved. Workshops and programs in schools, colleges, corporates and communities can help foster a movement for mental health. We must all learn to identify and red-flag signs of mental health concerns in ourselves and in others. A partnership between psychiatrists, psychiatric social workers, anthropologists, NGOs, and local volunteers could play an important role in fostering mental health awareness and making mental health services accessible to the masses.
The internet and social media have a huge role to play as well. They have the power to break taboos and alleviate stigma. Online apps and support groups can put those who are suffering in touch with those who can help or are facing similar concerns. Those who have recovered from mental illnesses are telling their stories via social media to inspire others, across barriers of language, borders and cultures. A mental health campaign on social media is the fastest way to reach out to people. Utilizing you on such campaign with their renewed energy is an achievement of another milestone.
Just as charity begins at home, so does mental health awareness. There are several coping mechanisms that we can employ in our day-to-day to improve our own emotional intelligence and mental well-being exponentially.
While we do agree to disagree that the stats above cannot make you panic during the COVID-19 crisis, you can simply follow below practices at home in case if you’ve been feeling anxious lately, getting frustrated, angry or downright confused; please know that you’re not alone—we are all in this together. So, take a deep breath and follow these handy, expert-backed strategies to improve your mental and emotional well-being:
- Cut back news and social media intake: Our brain is built to problem solve. And when we are already feeling fearful, it naturally seeks out stimuli in our external environment to reinforce the feeling of fear. The brain then deletes, distorts and generalizes all incoming information that does not align with your current emotional state or beliefs. So, if we spend a significant amount of time following the news, it reinforces more reason to worry— thus creating a vicious cycle. To keep fear and panic at bay, clinical psychiatric recommendations often recommends limiting news consumption to about five to ten minutes per day and setting a similar time limit for checking your social media accounts. In addition, if someone of us follows, sharing the posts that are often inaccurate or perturbing, try muting their posts to stop seeing their updates.
- Get information from only reliable sources: Some legitimate and reliable sources of COVID-19- related news and updates include the Center’s for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), Ministry of Health and Safety. It is helpful to adopt a more analytical approach as we follow news reports about the coronavirus. We would (in most likelihood) also want to verify information that we should be receiving from our family, friends or social media.
- Plan ahead and create a routine: With the closures of businesses and schools, creating a go-forward plan for you and your family will help keep your mind at ease. This could mean creating an at-home routine and schedule for remote work amid social distancing. Emulating our life before COVID-19 to the best of your ability—following the same schedule of when we wake up, when we eat and when we go to sleep, focus on things that are actually in control than thinking of something you can’t resist of happening. Focus on things that are actually in your control and create action plans to address them.
- Simply breathe: Practicing deep breathing or meditation are also great ways to alleviate stress and anxiety. Deep breathing helps us regulate your emotions by activating our parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS)—which helps slow the heart rate and restore the feeling of calm. Similarly, meditating for just five to ten minutes every morning can also prove to be beneficial.
- Keep ourselves busy: Engaging in activities that distract us from current events can also be helpful as well. We can watch our favorite movies and TV shows, pick up a new hobby like baking or preparing good food home for families, join an online fitness class or enroll in a free online university course. There are so many potential e-learning mediums that can upbeat our Meta-Cognitive Intelligence via e-learning courses.
- Physical Exercise: Physical activity helps ease anxiety and improve your mood by producing stress-relieving hormones called endorphins. In fact, according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, exercising for as little as ten minutes can boost happiness. Here’s a no-equipment, full-body workout we can easily do at home. We can even see and practice Yoga and life healing videos on YouTube and learn to be feel agile in ourselves.
- Getting Proper Sleep: Lack of sleep, or poor-quality sleep, can contribute to poorer mental health. Keeping our usual sleep routine even when our daily life has been disrupted is helpful. Let us aim to get at least eight to nine hours of sleep a night.
- Prioritizing Protein Intake: Stress can spike cravings for comfort foods that are high in sugar and saturated fats. The food we eat can have a direct impact on our mental health. We can try to eat a well- balanced diet rich in vegetables and nutrients. While the instant gratification may be appealing, these types of foods often lead to an immediate high and subsequent crash that can increase stress, irritability, and anxiety. When choosing snacks and meals, opt for foods that are high in protein and potassium as they have shown to help calm mood.
- Frequent communication with our kids: It’s important to take care of our kids’ mental and emotional health as well. We need to be honest and open with our children especially in this time and give them space to process their feelings, especially feelings of their fear and anxiety through us. Smoothen the process of healing by talking and spending quality time is what our kids would need in this difficult time. Besides, modeling self-care for our kids is also imperative. When they see we are doing it, they will often take interest and follow as well. Engaging in self-care activities with them like washing hands, eating healthy meals, exercising or meditating together, limiting social media exposure, etc. Additionally, we can try and maintain a normal routine as much as possible—because kids thrive off of a schedule of some kind. It can be disorienting and confusing for them if routines are thrown off.
- Be there for others: The “helper” therapy principle shows that helping others is also a benefit to the helper. We can engage ourselves in fundraising, we can join any NGO or a focus group to teach young India about moral values, online education, sharing thoughts on pin-interests and engaging in motivational sessions. We can distribute food parcel to elderly, we can help bring them the medicine they need in this critical time. See, we all need blessings. Even, at utmost scientific belief, we still believe a good thing to happen – a blessing maybe which can turn our life towards betterment.
Where to get help if above doesn’t help?
Well…A good place to start is to find an online counselor (off-course with a degree of psychologist) who can offer some online discussion forums for you. If you feel you need additional support, you can make an appointment with your GP (general practitioner) and discuss getting a referral to a clinical psychiatrist, as well as telehealth and teleheal practices.