Cases of mental illness have risen by 20% in India since it went into lockdown. The Coronavirus pandemic brought along many problems like increased rate of unemployment, pay cuts, emotional volatility, and change in home dynamics. This, coupled with anxiety about the future and insecurity about life has deteriorated the mental health of many. While Indian citizens are trying their best to resolve issues, mental health can sometimes take a backseat. Today, on World Mental Health Day, we brought in an expert to answer your questions regarding mental health in an effort to create awareness.

Why? Because mental health is about emotional and psychological well-being and is more than the absence of mental disorders.

Dr Fabian Almeida, the Consultant Psychiatrist at Fortis Hospital in Mumbai, explains the symptoms of mental health issues, exercises to combat them, and the importance and role of therapy.

1. How important is mental health, especially in 2020, in regards to the ongoing pandemic, loss of life, unstable economy and lack of job security?

Every pandemic, every crisis, brings along with it the power to sabotage human emotions in its wake, making a collateral pandemic of mental health problems, a grim reality. History has evidence of the same: The Flu pandemic of 1889, the Spanish Flu of 1918, the Asian Flu of 1957, the AIDS pandemic of 1981, the Swine Flu of 2009, and others too. 

Factors such as fear, anxiety, loss of life, unstable economy, loss of job security and others, take its toll on the mental health of the individuals, affecting the neurochemical balance and making people more vulnerable to mental health problems.

 2. How does a pandemic affect you mentally? What are some common signs and symptoms of mental health issues on the rise in 2020?

A pandemic is associated with evidence of disease, disability, distress and loss of life, in increasing proportions, all around the globe. The echoing news reports of such pandemics often instil fear and uncertainty in the minds of people, that can gradually rise to pathological proportions of diagnosable mental health disorders. 

Fear and anxiety top the list, wherein people experience problems with their sleep, appetite, mood, attention and concentration. Increased palpitations, tremulousness, sweating and difficulty to breathe, known as ‘panic attacks’, is a common presentation too. Frustration and depressive features associated with job loss, financial problems, inability to live the life we are used to, social isolation, and other relevant factors, is seen on an increasing trend. 

Addictions, especially to our available gadgets and social media, can be a maladaptive coping mechanism at these times. Irritability, increased fatigue, lack of interest in most of the aspects of life, changes in behaviour and a wish to die, are also some of the signs and symptoms of mental health breakdown. 

There are also surveys and statistics that have reported an increased incidence of aggressive behaviour and domestic violence during these times of the pandemic and lockdown.

3. How can you take care of your mental health? What are some exercises (mental & physical) to deal with such problems?

Knowing that our mental health is at risk during these extraordinary times, and making a conscious effort to balance our mental and physical health, is half the battle won! Getting your daily dose of deep breathing, meditation, relaxation, exercise-all of which can be done within the confines of our home; it adds up to our ability to boost our psychological immunity. 

Visualisation exercises (seeing positive outcomes in your mind’s eye), autosuggestion (using positive affirmations for the self), memory games and crossword, journal writing, healthy family time, entertainment without being exhaustive, balanced spirituality, keeping oneself connected with family & friends on the virtual platform, all of these, are steps in the right direction, towards mental stability.

4. With depression & anxiety at an all-time high, is therapy the best solution?

Yes, we can! The first steps of getting better are recognition and acceptance. 

Being able to recognise depression and anxiety in oneself or in others around us, calls for a better understanding of mental health signs and symptoms, as elaborated above. Accepting the fact that mental health problems can affect anybody, irrespective of class, financial status, education, talents, etc, makes it easier to then access professional help and guidance. Therapy is the wisest solution to this, but that is after having outlined by the psychiatrist what exactly the core problem is, and to what extent and intensity does it presently exist. The Psychiatrist then drafts a plan of action, to counter the psychological problem, besides deciding the need for medications, if any. Remember, self-help is a very important part of every therapy outlined for the mind.

5. What to expect when visiting a therapist, psychiatrist or psychologist for the first time?

Meeting your mental health professional for the first time can be overwhelming sometimes. Double-check on the appointment date and time, online appointments make this simpler. It would be better to have your complaints/signs and symptoms written down in chronological order, making it easier to interpret. Mentioning any triggers that are significant from the recent past or present, is also helpful. Any experience of similar problems before, or any family history of mental health illness and treatment, should also be mentioned. It benefits you to be honest and transparent with your doctor, thereby multiplying the benefits of the therapeutic outcomes.

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