Don't bottle up pandemic-induced stress, start socialising: Experts

New Delhi, Oct 09, 2021, IANS

By Rachel V Thomas

It's nearly two years since the Covid-19 pandemic struck the world. Yet the fear and anxiety it brought, especially in those who suffered from the infectious disease, forced to remain in isolation at home, lost their near and dear ones and were left jobless for months, is hard to let go.

However, with Covid easing and India reopening, it is time to open up and start mingling with people with proper precaution, bring happiness back in your life and shun depression and anxiety, health experts said on Saturday ahead of the World Mental Health Day on October 10.

While we are not yet out of the pandemic and must adhere to Covid-approriate behaviour, one also needs to "be cognisant of physical and mental health, do exercise/ yoga and spend good time with family", said Dr. Vipul Rastogi, Consultant neuropsychiatrist Medanta hospital, Gurugram, told IANS.

"Do not bottle-up your concerns and emotions. Share your feelings with family and friends and if it doesn't help seek professional help at the earliest," Rastogi added.

Mental health in India has been a concern, much before the pandemic. Due to societal pressures and social stigma revolving around it, the condition has not received much attention.

In 2017, President Ram Nath Kovind asserted that India was "facing a possible mental health epidemic".

A study, published in the science journal Lancet in the same year, revealed that 14 per cent of India's population suffered from mental health ailments, including 45.7 million suffering from depressive disorders and 49 million from anxiety disorders.

The Covid-19 pandemic has further accentuated this mental health crisis.

A recent LinkedIn report showed that more than one in two Indian professionals are currently feeling stressed at work as well-being measures have become a luxury for many in the last 18 months, adversely affecting mental health of working professionals in the country.

"Covid-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on mental health of all irrespective of age and class status and education," Dr Arti Anand, Senior clinical psychologist at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi, told IANS.

"The social isolation due to lock down, social distancing norms and mandatory wearing of masks and fear of death and experiencing near and dear ones dying has increased stress and fear. This in turn increased various anxiety disorders and depressive symptoms," she added.

Besides adults, Covid-19 pandemic also weighed heavily on children and young people's mental health. Through the pandemic, children have had limited access to support from social services due to lockdown measures. The disruption to routines, education, recreation, as well as concern for family income and health, has left many young people feeling afraid, angry, and concerned for their future.

The recent, 'The States of the World's Children 2021' Unicef report shows that 1 in 7 of 15 to 24-year-olds in India, often feel depressed.

Senior citizens have also seen their mental health deteriorate significantly due to loneliness and social isolation. Even the frontline workers who are tirelessly working under stressful conditions without any break facing an impact on their own mental health.

"The best way to cope with the stress is to start socialising, take psychotherapy/ counselling sessions, invest time in hobbies or creativity. Meditation and yoga can also relieve stress. Regular exercise, sleep and a balanced diet helps in stabilising mood," Anand said.

According to Dr Priyanka Srivastava, Consultant, Department of Behavioural Sciences, Jaypee Hospital (Noida), it is important to "raise awareness about mental health issues, educate people who are exposed to trauma about the effects of cumulative stress".

It is also important to not follow fake news on the social media channels about Covid-19, while taking a healthy diet and doing physical activity based on your health risks and connecting with the loved ones and sharing your concerns, she told IANS.

(Rachel V Thomas can be contacted at [email protected])