History has shown the enormous toll that pandemics take on governments, health care systems, economies, organisations and people. But there is also a huge, but often invisible, toll they take on mental health. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, citizens in large parts of the world are locked down, their lives have got disrupted, their livelihoods are hurt or even destroyed, and they stare at an uncertain future for themselves and their loved ones. Unsurprisingly, this has caused anxiety, fear, stress and trauma.
Recognising this, United Nations secretary general, Antonio Guterres, on Wednesday, spoke of the need for governments to urgently address mental health care needs, and asked them to include mental health as part of their policy response to the pandemic. The immediate challenge for each country, of course, is to flatten the curve of infections, prepare health systems, and revive the economy. But the mental health crisis will stay beyond the pandemic, and people, across classes and communities, will need help. Despite a robust law in place, India ranks poorly in mental health awareness and treatment. Battling social stigma on the one hand, and the lack of professional interventions on the other (India’s psychiatrist to patient ratio is a dismal 1:100,000), it has an uphill battle. The government must formulate an empathetic response to provide help to affected individuals; organisations, communities, and families must come together to offer solidarity and support; and medical professionals must find innovative ways of offering care and therapy at a time of social distancing.