Sunday, 1 November, 2020
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EDITORIAL

Invest In Mental Health



The extended lockdown, enforced to rein in the COVID-19 outbreak, has triggered multiple socio-economic and psychological problems. The virus has badly affected the mental health of people. The pandemic has gripped the people from all walks of life, including the doctors, students, teachers, workers, housewives and office goers. The medical workers are often fearful of bringing virus home with them. The students have lost their contacts with friends and teachers for long. They are naturally anxious about their future as exams were postponed and classes were disrupted. Those living at home always fear whether their family members have contracted the virus while meeting the people in office and market. Workers have been the hardest-hit after losing their means of livelihoods owing to the closure of industries and businesses. A vast number of people have been pushed to the vicious cycle of poverty. Their situation has turned worse from bad in the absence of social security net and humanitarian assistance.
The people with mental health conditions have found themselves in even more harrowing time due to greater social isolation and lack of contacts with their dear ones. The COVID-19 has inflicted cruelty on those who have lost their loved ones owing to the virus infection. The grief-stricken families could not attend to their relatives during their dying moments. Neither could they perform the last rites of the deceased as per their religion. These all factors have combined to create mental trauma on a mass scale. Unable to bear the adverse consequences, many have also killed themselves. This is a terrible situation that calls for taking urgent measures, including psychological support to the affected individuals and investment in mental health sector, an area grossly ignored by governments globally.
A study conducted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in seven countries has found that the COVID-19 has affected mental health of one in two people. It has exacerbated existing mental health conditions, making access to mental health services even scarcer. The research also highlights the urgent mental health needs of those who have been on the frontline of the pandemic, from medical staff to volunteers, community and social workers, dead body collectors, community leaders and many others. Nearly three in four respondents to the ICRC survey said that frontline health workers and first responders have more need for mental health support than the average persons. They are often directly exposed to the virus, work long hours, and are invariably subject to stressful events and stigma when supporting disaster-affected communities, it states.
On October 10, the World Mental Health Day was marked amidst the surge of virus cases and fatalities. This is the apt occasion to remind the governments, policy makers and concerned stakeholders of the urgency in focusing on the mental health of the people. ICRC’S director-general Robert Mardini has aptly said that mental health is just as important as physical health, especially in crisis situations, when mental health needs are especially critical. As the virus is likely to increase the number of people suffering from the mental problems, the government in Nepal should also allocate adequate budget to enhance the medical facilities and psychological counselling to support such people. The media should also effectively generate awareness on mental health that is mistakenly considered taboo out of ignorance, fear and superstition.  

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