Mental health in the pandemic: a stigma or a priority?

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Sharvari A Khandkar, a MBBS graduate from Medical College Baroda and SSG hospital, India. She is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

A pandemic is not just a medical phenomenon; it affects individuals and society and causes disruption, anxiety, stress, stigma, and xenophobia. 

The covid-19 pandemic has not only exposed the crippling condition of our healthcare systems, but also has brought about vast impact on mental health, especially of the youth.  In the year 2020 the entire world was suddenly thrown into quite different living situation. Countries going into lockdown, people living in quarantine and covid-19 infected patients living alone in hospitals with little contact with their relatives. On one hand where people have accepted this as the “New Normal”, on the other numerous cases of worsening mental health cases have been brought out.

India went into lockdown on 25th March 2020, which meant the youth living in their homes and adjusting to an altogether different lifestyle. Fear and hopelessness about the future crept in as people were faced with uncertainty, and all leading to an upward trend of anxiety, depression, levels of loneliness, alcohol and drug use, self-harm or suicidal behaviour. This was largely magnified by the fall of GDP and companies laying off people all over the country. Mental and emotional stress as a result of financial losses, educational uncertainty, increased incidence of domestic violence, death of family members or even worse, orphaned children. Fear of contracting the disease was followed by inability to secure beds especially in the 2nd covid wave of India.

Adverse mental health often manifests as sleep disturbances, panic attacks, irritability, appetite changes, body ache, crying spells and the list goes on. The anticipation of not knowing mixed with negative thoughts while quarantining in a pandemic forms a dangerous cocktail. Who knew a single virus could affect humanity so gravely?

The frontline workers suffered equally in terms of professional morbidity. Fear of catching the disease, long working hours, unavailability of protective gear and supplies, patient load, unavailability of effective COVID‐19 medication, death of their colleagues after exposure to COVID‐19, social distancing and isolation from their family and friends, and the dire situation of their patients took a negative toll on the mental health of health workers. Burnout amongst healthcare workers now frequently reported, which manifested as signs of emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and decreased sense of accomplishment.

Healthy ways of coping might include social media detoxification, being proud of self for even getting through the day, concentrating more on adequate sleep, exercise and diet, cultivation of hobbies. Ancestral habits such as meditation, yoga and breathing exercises (Pranayama). Safe personal space at home, and some quality “me time” also helps.  Reaching out for help to psychiatrists and therapists is as important as getting rid of the stigma over mental health issues, especially in a country like India, where the term “mental health” is quite frowned upon.

Kindness towards ourselves and others has emerged as the single most important aid in tiding through these waves of despair It therefore becomes crucial to identify early signs and seek help at the earliest.

Words to remember-Pause. Breathe. Reflect.  



About the author

Sharvari A Khandkar is a MBBS graduate from Medical College Baroda and SSG hospital. She has worked shifts as an intern in a COVID hospital during her internship. She believes that an effective doctor patient relationship is required for the betterment of a patient as a whole. She believes that healthy lifestyle changes are an important component of holistic approach to medicine. She has always been a passionate learner and enthusiastic student. These are difficult times, and she believes that together we can get through it.

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