Mental health, the next big concern

One of the significant fallouts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown that is close to touching the 50th day, has been the adverse impact on people’s mental health.
Mental health, the next big concern
Representative Image (Courtesy: Reuters)

Chennai

The prolonged uncertainty of what new statistic the pandemic might throw up in the days to come, coupled with the ever increasing anxiety of salary-cuts, retrenchments and job losses has taken a massive toll on the emotional well-being of citizens across the country. With daily reports on cases of anxiety, loneliness, depression and suicidal tendencies making headlines every day, this has all the elements of yet another health crisis.
A recent whitepaper which mapped the COVID Mental Wellbeing Index studied this problem in detail and even ranked cities on basis of their ability to cope with the psychological impact of the pandemic. Cities that exhibited a higher score on this index include Indore at 75%, Coimbatore at 73% and Pune at 72%. Mumbai ranked the lowest on this scale at just 28%, while Chennai trailed at 46%.
So how prepared are we to cope with mental illness? The country has approximately 18 crore people suffering from one or the other form of mental health illnesses. But to cater to this massive demographic, we have less than 4,000 mental health professionals. And out of a healthcare budget of Rs 62,398 crore, allocations of funds for the National Mental Health Programme was a mere Rs 40 crore this year, which is even less than the previous allocation of Rs 50 crore. Telemedicine could be a solution.
On March 25, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued guidelines for providing electronic prescriptions to those suffering from mental illnesses. However, many of the medicines prescribed for psychiatric conditions are schedule H drugs which are excluded from the guidelines for telemedicine prescription.
The onslaught of COVID-19 offers healthcare policy makers an opportunity to reopen the debate on mental health once again. This time it is hoped there is a clear-cut road map for recovery, on the governance and policy front for mental health in India.

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