The past two years have been unprecedented in world history, and the toll is no longer just physical—we are also carrying the emotional burden of living with uncertainty, fear of newer variants, and the knowledge that our lives can change overnight. Research agrees, with studies observing a worrying spike in anxiety, distress and low self-esteem. But from the ashes has arisen a greater willingness to speak about our mental health and more awareness about taking care of our emotional well-being along with the physical. We spoke to the experts to understand how the global crisis affected our mental health, and here’s what we learned.
What The Pandemic Meant For Mental Health In India
Mehezabin Dordi, clinical psychologist at Sir H N Reliance Foundation Hospital in Mumbai, believes that the stress, anxiety and depression stemming from fear and isolation are not just limited to just the people who have contracted the virus. She says, “The measures taken to slow the spread of the virus such as lockdowns and self-isolation, while necessary, affected our physical activity levels, eating behaviours, sleep patterns and our relationship with addictive substances—this includes social media. The increased exposure to adverse news over the past two years has amplified the negative effects of social media on our mental health.”
The quest for a silver lining is a difficult one when living with a global pandemic, but Dordi believes that the best that can be said is that it has opened new avenues of discussion on mental health, along with increased willingness to discuss mental health issues and general increase in awareness. When quizzed about the reasons behind the same, she says, “The overall impact of the pandemic affected people not just on a physical level, but also on an emotional one. With fear, uncertainty, anxiety, grief, sadness and frustration being on an all-time high, it became impossible to not talk about it. While mental health problems existed even before the pandemic, the debilitation and sense of urgency that comes with addressing them has now eclipsed the stigma.” The need to discuss mental health more openly finds further impetus by the fact that the emotional impact of the pandemic can outlive the disease itself, she believes.
For Dr Jalpa Bhuta, consultant psychiatrist at Global Hospital in Mumbai, the pandemic has afforded time for some long-overdue introspection. “It served as a prolonged pause as we realised what our priorities are, what we have and what is missing from our life, bringing us closer to our near and dear ones. Also, knowing that so many others are going through the same thing that you are has directly translated into lesser hesitancy to speak about our emotional state of mind,” he says.
How Social Media Has Opened The Conversation On Mental Health
When discussing the newfound awareness of mental health, it would be remiss to neglect the role that social media has played in taking the conversation forward. Dordi agrees, and adds, “The most fundamental obstacle when dealing with a mental health condition is that it is not often as noticeable as someone with a physical injury. There is also an added layer of general stigma, myths and poor awareness. Watching a relatable face on social media can help address the isolation and reinforce the fact that you are not alone. It also fosters a sense of acceptance which aids in addressing the stigma.”
Many also find it difficult to seek help right away, but the anonymity afforded online can serve as a healthy starting point to acknowledge there is a problem and work on seeking avenues for help from there. “Social media provides an outlet for communication without having to address the vulnerability and fear that comes with face-to-face interaction. In this sense, an individual is more likely to express themselves freely from the comfort of their own homes,” she adds. Dr Bhuta agrees, and adds, “Social media affords a sense of anonymity that can help bond people going through the same problems. It has also become easier to find a mental health professional or psychiatrist online—people who were previously reluctant to go to a clinic can now seek help from the comfort of their home and express their feelings and emotions in a safe space.”
The Way Forward: The Future Of Mental Health In India
While physical health is more straightforward and tangible than mental health, Dordi believes that there’s been an increased willingness to recognise mental health as an essential part of one’s well-being over the course of the past few years. “The way forward is a mixture of normalising discussions about mental healthcare and showing different versions of it in media along with addressing the existing stigma associated with it. New government policies can also bolster conversations and awareness about mental health on a national level,” she concludes.