A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that 7.5 per cent 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 per cent. WHO also predicts that by 2020 end, roughly 20 per cent 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 a 1.3 billion population here! Mental problems are more in the 30–49 age group or over 60; low income, job insecurities, and fragile lifestyles are linked to occurrence of mental disorders. Urban populations are always taking a hit despite attending so many seminars, or life coaching – “guru” who heals.
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 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 superfoods to eat and what not to eat, what the latest diet fads are, what the most cutting-edge workouts to stay fit are, 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.
You would be surprised to know that so many people aren’t even aware that they may be suffering from a mental health concern. Educating people about mental wellbeing is a battle itself.
In our country, the discovery of a 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, we need to acknowledge the absurdity of the stigmas attached to mental health in order to eradicate them.
It is important for everyone to get involved. Workshops and programmes 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 the 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. Utilising on such campaigns 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 the 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 generalises all incoming information that does not align with our 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 psychiatrists often recommend limiting news consumption to about five to ten minutes per day and setting a similar time limit for checking our social media accounts. Since some posts can often be inaccurate or perturbing, try muting these posts to stop seeing updates.
Get information from only reliable sources. Some legitimate and reliable sources of COVID-19 related news and updates include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organisation (WHO), and 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. Moreover, we need to consume only what we need to know, what’s most relevant to us, and particularly what is happening or anticipated in our own community.
Keep things in perspective. Using Meditation, Yoga Nidra is a key to let go of your deep problems. Work is being done to help people who may be more vulnerable to the coronavirus, such as senior citizens and those with underlying health conditions. The most important thing one can do to help is to help oneself and one’s loved ones to take all the precautions, including washing hands and practicing social distancing.
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 our ability—following the same schedule of when we wake up, when we eat and when we go to sleep, will help us focus on things that are actually in control than thinking of something we can’t resist. Focus on things that are actually in our control and create action plans to address them.
Staying connected with your family and friends. Maintaining social networks can foster a sense of normality and provide valuable outlets for sharing feelings and relieving stress. We can maintain these connections without increasing our risk of getting the virus by talking on the phone, texting and chatting with people on social media platforms.
Simply breathe. Practicing deep breathing or meditation are also great ways to alleviate stress and anxiety. Deep breathing helps us regulate our 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 favourite movies and TV shows, pick up a new hobby like baking or preparing home cooked food for our family, join an online fitness class or enroll in a free online university course. There are so many potential e-learning mediums which can boost our Meta-Cognitive Intelligence via e-learning courses.
Physical Exercise. Physical activity helps ease anxiety and improve our 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. We can even watch Yoga and life healing videos on YouTube and practice them and learn to 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.
Prioritising protein Intake into our body. 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.
Make time for self-care. When stress heightens, it is easy for us to let go of our positive self-care practices, prioritising other activities—like work and household chores. Yet this is the time we ought to practice self-care the most. So, we should carve out some time for ourselves every day, even when we are hunkered down, to do something that makes us feel good. Whether it’s journaling, reading a book, playing with our pet or listening to music or our favourite podcast. Also, we shouldn’t forget the critical self-care activities like eating healthy, getting adequate sleep and regular physical activity.
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 during this time and give them space to process their feelings, especially feelings of their fear and anxiety through us. Smoothening the process of healing by talking and spending quality time is what our kids would need in this difficult time. Besides, modelling 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, and limiting social media exposure. 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. Hence, maintain your normal life even if it’s during COVID-19.
Be there for others: The “helper” therapy principle shows that helping others is also beneficial to the helper. We can engage ourselves in fundraising, join any NGO or a focus group to teach young Indians about moral values, online education, sharing thoughts and engage in motivational sessions. We can distribute food parcels to the elderly, or help bring them the medicine they need in this critical time. See, we all need blessings. Even, with our utmost scientific belief, we still believe good things will happen – a blessing which can turn our lives for the better because helping and volunteering for people who have raised us is the most beautiful part of your story.