COVID-19 has adversely affected humans in more ways than one, apart from the virus, causing fatalities and spreading like wildlife. It has forced governments across the globe to impose lockdown and make people stay indoors. This also gave rise to another worrying situation- psychological lockdown! 

Currently, around 2.6 billion people, which is one-third of the world’s population, is at home living under lockdown/partial lockdown or quarantine. The current situation is termed as the biggest psychological experiment in the world. 

Women more affected with Mental Health Issues under Lockdown

According to a new study conducted by researchers from Cambridge, Oxford, and Zurich universities, the mental health breakdown has become worse for women than men. Issues of mental health among males are small and highly insignificant. The study found more mental health problems in reports of how women are feeling at this time. The study found the mental health gender gap increased by a significant 66% in the US states under lockdown. In addition to the US, women across the globe in other countries too are facing mental health issues like depression, anxiety, mental block, irritability, and many more.

There are several reasons why women might be suffering more, globally, too, during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • With schools shut down, women are taking up more childcare duties when the children are at home. They are the ones homeschooling children more than men.
  • Due to schools and educational institutes being closed down and children being homeschooled, it might be leading women to work less or give up their jobs. At this time, work from home too becomes a pain with children around the home and not having enough time to devote to their work. Women are also losing their jobs more than men at this time.
  • Previous research has found that women who are professionally employed, also tend to do domestic work like cleaning the house, in comparison to men. With lockdown imposed and people stuck at home, the amount of housekeeping works like cleaning, cooking, and tidying increases, which increases the workload and diminishes their free time. This causes irritability and frustration for the womenfolk.

In addition to the above reasons, there is another recently observed situation that is increasing the psychological disorders of women- domestic violence! Domestic violence has increased during lockdowns in many places across the globe.   Hans Kluge, WHO’s regional director for Europe, stated that countries ‘are reporting up to a 60% increase in emergency calls by women subjected to violence by their intimate partners in April this year, as compared to last.’ With billions of people forced to stay-at-home during the lockdown, women and children are most vulnerable to abuse. The UN agency for sexual and reproductive health (UNFPA) has also estimated that there would be 31 million more cases of domestic violence worldwide if lockdowns continue for another six months.

Measures and What to Do?

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) has introduced guidelines to help people tackle mental health issues during the lockdown. 

  • Maintain a routine.
  • Restrict the use of media and social media coverage to prevent fake and sensationalizing news. Obtain news and information only from credible sources.
  • Focus on things one can control, give time to you, and reflect on positivity.
  • Find things that keep you busy, be it constructive or creative tasks that uplift the mood.
  • Stay connected with your loved ones through voice and video calls.
  • If you’re on medication, take it as prescribed.
Mental Health Issues
Mental Health Issues

What should governments and NGOs do?

  • Ensure that self-help interventions are in place and responsive for the needs of most affected populations,
  • Educate people about psychological impacts and trauma reactions. Ensure that people understand that a psychological response is normal and get in touch with a loved one or medical intervention if required,
  • Launch a website specifically that addresses psychosocial issues.

In India, NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences) has set up a helpline to reach out to patients. Also, states like Kerala have set up responsive helplines to tele-counsel people in times of lockdown and quarantine. The helpline reported a significant increase in calls; for instance, last Saturday, the helpline recorded 7,000 calls, with the government employing over 700 counselors.

“People in quarantine grapple first with stigma, then anxiety about getting infected; then, of course with the stress of loneliness,” says Kiran P. S., State nodal officer for the Mental Health Programme that runs the helpline. According to Sanjeev Jain, professor, psychiatry, at NIMHANS, ‘Such paranoia can be prevented by communicating the right information about the pandemic. There’s no mystery; we must encourage people to be rational in their response rather than panic.’

According to psychologists, people should understand the line difference between physical distancing and social distancing. Distancing doesn’t mean social or emotional disengagement; one can be connected even during distancing. People can bring a sense of social togetherness among each other, through phone, or by helping people in the neighborhood. At such a crucial time, the only way forward is to accept that while no one has any control over anything, there are some things that they can do. People can engage themselves in healthy, positive activities, engaging oneself with books, music, or hobbies, avoid social media information, and speculation about the pandemic.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi implemented the Mental Healthcare Act in the year 2017, which guarantees the citizens the right to mental healthcare. This law also discourages the prior emphasis on institutionalizing or incarcerating people with a mental health condition, instead advocating for integrating patients within their communities. However, the government now is violating that same law by not making proper arrangements for patients during the lockdown phase. Even though hospitals and counselling centers are open, without any access to public transport, the travel to hospitals is almost impossible, and especially for the people who don’t live in cities and don’t have access to transportation at this time. 

The Indian government is promoting telemedicine as a means of providing health services during the lockdown.  On March 25, the first day of lockdown in India, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued telemedicine guidelines, which included a template that provides electronic prescriptions to patients of mental illnesses. However, telemedicine is an impractical solution in India, that also has the highest percentage of poverty and illiterate people.

Also Read; 8 Lifestyle Changes For Mental Health