The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the attention to mental health and the subject received a special mention in the Union Budget 2022 presented in the Parliament by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday.
The finance minister said that to better the access to quality mental health counselling and care services, a 'National Tele Mental Health Programme' will be launched.
"This will include a network of 23 tele-mental health centres of excellence, with NIMHANS being the nodal centre and International Institute of Information Technology-Bangalore (IIITB) providing technology support," she said.
During her Budget speech, the finance minister also expressed empathy for those who had to bear adverse health and economic effects of the pandemic. "The pandemic has accentuated mental health problems in people of all ages," she said.
COVID-19-led intermittent lockdowns, movement restrictions and work from home policies have pushed lakhs of people across the globe into mental distress. India is no exception to the problem. According to a study published in peer reviewed journal, Plos One, in August 2021, the pandemic has undoubtedly altered the routine of life and caused unanticipated changes resulting in severe psychological responses and mental health crisis.
The study done by Department of Management Studies, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Chennai covered over 1,600 persons and showed that about 53.86 per cent of the people considered for analysis were under high distress.
The study titled -- COVID-19 and psychological distress: Lessons for India -- also reported that females experienced higher distress (66.02 per cent) than their counterparts. It found that the respondents who were working on site were more distressed (50.96 per cent) than those working from home or not working. Those with a history of pre-existing medical conditions reported higher distress (54.99 per cent) than the ones who were not sure if they ever suffered from one. Within the socio-demographic factors, the respondents in the age group of 21–35 years were found to be more prone to distress (40.98 per cent) as compared to the other age groups considered for the study, it said.
The study indicated the prevalence of distress experienced by the citizens of India during the pandemic and provided pragmatic implications for stress management at macro and microlevels during an epidemiological crisis. The public’s lack of trust towards government policies and initiatives around COVID-19 was identified as a significant predictor of distress. It said a constant attempt by the public authorities to understand the community’s perception of their policies must be undertaken.
"The pandemic and its aftermath have aggravated mental health issues, and this situation requires renewed focus," said Dr Shyam Bhat, Chairperson, LiveLoveLaugh, a charitable trust working to tackle stress, anxiety, and depression.
According to the National Mental Health Survey of India in 2016, one in 20 people in India suffer from depression, with productive age groups affected the most. It said the economic burden of mental disorders is huge and the treatment gap varies between 70 per cent and 92 per cent.
“The intended National Tele Mental Health Program is a contemporary measure and will help in coping with lifestyle issues which is becoming a major challenge in present times," said Arvind Sharma, Partner, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co.
According to government data, 47 mental hospitals in the country account for a large proportion (18,307) of the total mental health beds available in the country.
"Some estimates indicate that 14 per cent of India’s population suffers from some type of mental illness and 80 per cent have not been diagnosed properly or treated. This initiative, especially now with the pandemic having exacerbated the problem will ensure that we address this serious problem and the inclusion of a technology partner will help leapfrog to the next level," said Charu Sehgal, Partner, Life Sciences & Health Care Leader, Deloitte India.
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