COVID-19 was declared a Global Pandemic by WHO on 11th March 2020, and several colleges announced an indefinite suspension of offline classes within a few days of it. There was a wave of excitement rippling among all the students. Rumors about a possible lockdown were flying around and holidays were being planned. The gravity of the situation hadn’t really set in by then.
We (students) spent the first two weeks of lockdown by doing all the recreational activities possible– reading novels, starting new Instagram pages, participating in online competitions and ticking off things from an impromptu ‘to-do list’. By the time third week rolled around, a lot of us wanted to return to our colleges. Fourth week knocked, and people started feeling trapped in the four walls of their houses. Fifth week and various organisations started reaching out to help people emotionally. Sixth and mental health had become a crisis situation. Currently we are more than a hundred days into this lockdown, no one knows how many more are there to come. What started as a dream vacation is turning out to be a nightmare for the majority of us.
Growing up in India, mental health has always been a taboo subject. Going for counseling, seeing a psychologist or taking medicines are seen as signs of being mentally deranged, and being judged in an Indian society is not a pleasant experience. People who try being upfront about the problems they are facing are taunted, jibed at and ridiculed. As a society which demonises mental health, refuses to acknowledge its existence and continuously strives to hide it from everyone, this pandemic has struck us in all the wrong ways. People who have always repressed their emotions are struggling to keep a positive state of mind amidst this situation. The latent negativity which was always ignored at the pretext of being ‘moody’ or ‘immature’ is manifesting in various forms.
A neighbour across my house committed suicide during lockdown. She was frustrated, had a fight with her husband and burnt herself to death, leaving behind a 10 year old autistic son. Another neighbour tried to hang himself but was unsuccessful. There are countless reports of thefts, murders, rapes, domestic violence and other crimes increasing many folds in the wake of this pandemic. Switch on any news channel and we are flooded with disturbing accounts of yet another disaster.
India is a home to 1.3 billion people. This number includes several people of non-binary sexual orientation, who have been rendered extremely vulnerable in this pandemic. June, the ‘Global Pride Month’, has lost its charm and with several pride parades being cancelled around the globe, a sizeable chunk of this community is forced to battle through unsafe family environments due to the lockdown. Further, we have 1.7 million homeless people, who have no place to live during these difficult times. They don’t have a roof on their heads or masks on their faces. 139 million migrant labours are stuck in foreign lands with no food, job, money or hope. Several small businessmen, roadside vendors and countless people who earn their living are also affected. Some situations are bigger than you and I. Some situations threaten not just individuals but the whole society, nation, and perhaps everything we have ever known. Some situations finally should get the attention they should have got. Some situations need to be salvaged while we still can do it.
A study by WHO reveals that roughly 7.5% of Indians battle mental disorders. By the end of 2020, this number is expected to cross 20%. To deal with this possible breakout, we have just 4000 professionals available. Quite obviously, it is not enough! If we still continue on this line of making it a taboo and refusing to talk about it, the future isn’t very bright. Try telling someone that you might need help and they’ll scoff. Or ignore. Or they’ll tell you how you have to be ‘mentally strong’ and it is just a ‘phase of life’. The sheer lack of awareness among the educated folks is appalling. We are not equipped to deal with yet another pandemic which targets us on a whole another level.
Oxford Dictionary defines psychosocial as ‘relating to the interrelation of social factors, individual thought and behaviour’. Mental well-being is not an individual issue; it is something that is at the core of any society. One person’s mental health depends on the society and in turn, the collaborative health of a society depends on its individuals. It is amusing how amidst the ongoing pandemic, we are realizing our mistakes. A weed unless chopped off from its roots will continue to thrive no matter how many times you trim it. It is the time when we should address the situation from its roots rather than just focusing on the symptomatic relief.
This problem requires the attention of not just a few people but the entire society in solidarity. The psychosocial aspect of mental health needs to be taken into account. What we need is a revolution; one which will ensure that the LGBTQ+ people be accepted in the society, no poor migrant worker will sleep with an empty stomach, no small businessman goes bankrupt and everyone comes together to battle this pandemic as a whole rather than fractions. We need media being unbiased and giving facts rather than judgment, society being more accepting of people who face mental health issues, bollywood de-stigmatising rather than normalizing them, and we, as individuals of the nation realizing our importance in this entire cascade. We have a greater role to play than just being keyboard warriors. As the youth of the country, it is on us how we approach and address the situation, how we educate the coming generations and what kind of an example we set for them. Creating a safe space is in our hands and what we make of this opportunity is yet to be seen.
Author- Priya Bansal