An international acknowledgment of one of the most unaddressed problems faced by human beings
It is the World Health Organisation that has promoted October 10th as a day when we remember the very important issue of mental health – which is as critical to us as physical health is. In fact, because of the absence of visible signs in the early stages, the lack of understanding that we or people close to us may be suffering from clinically recognized problems, the stigma attached to mental health issues that make talking about or expressing mental problems taboo, and also the paucity of treatments for the same in many parts of the world – mental health is something we should pay more attention to. These problems can affect anyone of us at any time. Issues could be faced by individuals or a group of individuals living close together or even whole communities or societies that are facing some sort of crisis or the other.
We also know that there are specific mental health problems that are faced by different age groups like older people who had a tendency towards senile depression when they retire or think of themselves as redundant in the world. Teenagers are battling raging hormonal changes and mood swings as they negotiate a very difficult period of growing up. Postnatal depression descends on many first-time mothers. Important life landmarks like marriages trigger varying degrees of stress that many are not able to cope with. Similarly, incidents like moving home, the loss of a job, or separation from a spouse or partner can give rise to emotional turbulence that may have no external signs.
The overall objective of 10th October is to raise awareness about mental health issues and to mobilise support efforts. It gives a chance to all health workers to highlight their work and express the needs they have felt should be addressed.
Why Mental Health Day is more poignant in 2020
The year 2020 has brought huge changes to the lives of everyone on this planet. The world has never faced a pandemic of this proportion ever in recorded history. Especially because the world is interconnected with close business, economic, and technological ties more than it ever was before – the effects have been severe on the populations of all countries. Riding on the shoulders of the fear of contracting the novel coronavirus, are the sweeping changes to our daily lives as our movements are restricted so that the spread of the disease is slowed down. These new realities: working from home,
temporary unemployment, home-schooling of children, and lack of physical contact with other family members, friends and colleagues, and these have affected our mental as well as physical health. And this new routine is particularly difficult for people with existing mental health problems.
Social distancing – the most basic protection against this contagion has made people feel isolated and lonely and added a different kind of stress and anxiety. Daily, people live with the fear about one’s own health and the health of loved ones, one’s financial situation or job, or the loss of support services one always took for granted, changes in sleep or eating patterns, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, worsening of chronic health problems, neglect of mental health conditions, increased use of external harmful substances that purport to be mood enhancers.
Different people had different responses to stressful situations
An individual’s response stress during the COVID-19 pandemic can depend on the person’s background, social support from family or friends, financial situation, health and emotional situation, the surrounding community, and many other factors. The necessary and enforced changes made in order to respond to the pandemic affect everyone in different degrees and ways.
People who are most prone to problems during a crisis are older citizens and those with pre-existing co-morbidities, children and teens who are usually active and don’t take well to being indoors all the time, frontline workers like healthcare professionals and first responders, employees in the food industry, people with mental health issues, substance abusers, those whose livelihoods have been affected, disabled people, people who live isolated or alone, some racial and ethnic minorities, people who do not have access to information in their primary language, the homeless, and those who live in congregated groups in strained situations.
More poignantly, these are people already less able to take care of themselves. With a pandemic and its attendant issues, they become the most vulnerable to mental health problems.
What an individual can do in this situation
One’s own stress can be relieved to a large extent if one takes care of others, like friends and family, and people in their close vicinity. This can be done quite easily by providing emotional social support. During social distancing, one can make an effort to connect and stay in touch by whatever modern means possible.
Those that are more able to take care of themselves could be an asset to their close ones and to their community. But they have to stay strong first. This can be done by – consulting a health professional before any self-treatment is done. They should know where to go for proper testing and treatment, including therapy. Often, at times like these tele-counseling is an option or video conferencing with doctors.
One has to avoid over-consumption of news of depressing reports of disasters and fake news and false information that proliferate over the internet and all arms of social media. They should never re-post anything that has not been doubly verified; otherwise, they could spread needless panic or a false sense of security – both of which are dangerous.
A lot of mental strength can be derived from physical good health – which also has a direct impact on one’s mood. This can be done with regular exercises, balanced diets, timely sleep, and mind control methods like deep breathing, stretching, or meditation. And, of course, alcohol and drug use – which bring temporary relief but compound problems when their effects wear off – should be avoided altogether.
One has to make time for one’s interests and leisure activities, which are always part of self-development. One should indulge some time in doing things one enjoys. Connecting with others is a good and easy way of doing this.
The Spectre of Suicide
The risk of suicide is higher among people who have experienced violence, including child abuse, bullying, or sexual violence. Feelings of isolation, depression, anxiety, and other emotional or financial stresses are known to raise the risk of suicide. People may be more likely to experience these feelings during a crisis like a pandemic.
Here, it is more important to stay connected with people one trusts and can confide in. Where possible, counseling should be taken recourse to. Information to such help-lines nearby is always available on the internet.
While the World Mental Health Day comes every year on Oct 10th, this year the date has greater significance than ever because of the horrific trials the entire world has been going through because of the most wide-spread pandemic in centuries. This is a day to reflect on the selfless services of doctors, care providers, and others who have risked, and sometimes lost, their lives in the service of others.
It is up to each one of us to play our part, however small, in the large and related family that we call humankind.