By Jeya Kumar, Founder & CEO of RaphaCure
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues in India. Physical isolation, fear of health complications, loss of livelihood owing to the economic slowdown and misinformation about everything surrounding the pandemic have taken a toll on the physical and mental wellbeing of people from all walks of life.
Students are no exception. The prolonged closure of educational institutions, inadequate facilities for online classes and the growing uncertainty over career opportunities have left them in the lurch.
In October 2021, a study by the Lancet reported a 35 per cent rise in mental health problems in India. In the same month, a UNICEF survey found that around 14 per cent of the population in the age group of 15 to 24 years in India reported often feeling depressed or having little interest in doing things.The National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) annual report released inNovember 2021 showed suicides in India increased by 10 per cent in 2020 during the pandemic. Even before the pandemic, there was an acute shortage of mental health services in India. The National Mental Health Survey (NMHS) in 2016 reported that nearly 70-80 per cent of those with mental illness in India received no treatment.
Given the situation, mental health issues have caught the attention of policymakers.
The Union Budget last year had proposed Rs71,269 crore for Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, which included Rs 597 crore for mental healthcare. Of this, around 7 per cent was allocated for the National Mental Health Programme, while a majority of it was set aside for two institutions—Rs 500 crore for the National Institute of Mental Health and Sciences (NIMHANS) in Bengaluru and Rs 57 crore for LokpriyaGopinathBordoloi Regional Institute of Mental Health in Tezpur.Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, while presenting the Union Budget for the 2022-23 financial year this February, mentioned that mental distress was increasing. The coronavirus pandemic had accentuated mental health problems in people of all ages, she said and announced the plan to set up a National Tele-Mental Health programme to improve the access to quality counselling and healthcare services. According to the proposal, 23 tele-mental health centres will be launched with the NIMHANS as the nodal centre. The International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), Bengaluru will provide technical support for the mental health programme.
Even the corporate leaders hailed the announcement and promised to put in efforts around their respective workplaces to ensure the good mental health of employees. The COVID-19 pandemic has compelled people from all walks of life to recognise the mental health crisis and this is an opportunity for the implementation of mental health services and national legislation in letter and spirit.Even as the Mental Health Care Act 2017 mandates the right to mental health, it is yet to be implemented in toto in many states.Health experts say that focusing on mental and emotional wellness is the need of the hour.
Miles to go:
India still has miles to go to address the paucity of experts and accessibility and affordability for mental healthcare. However, technology has a big role to play here. Tele-consultation with doctors and health experts has been proven a lifesaver during the pandemic. Many startups are providing the facility of consulting health experts online. A person from any remote corner now can consult doctors in cities through a mobile phone or video calling session. Technology has opened a new vista in mental healthcare support services and data collection. Smartphones, tablets and computers are becoming the solutions to bring patients, doctors and researchers to a common platform. Accessing help, monitoring progress, and increasing awareness about mental wellbeing are becoming easy.New technology related to Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be packaged into customised apps to use built-in sensors in devices to collect information about the users' behavioural patterns.
Social media addiction:
Studies have also revealed a correlation between high usage of digital technologies and mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.Some psychologists have claimed that addiction to technology and social media is similar to disorders triggered by substance abuse. Digital addiction to the user occurs when it starts hurting life and becomes difficult to stop despite knowing that it harms health in many ways.There has been a massive growth in the Internet and digital media in India in the last decade.More than for research, acquiring information, communication, and business, the internet is also used for pornography, online gaming, indiscriminate chatting and gambling, and students are most vulnerable to such misuse. Therefore, there should be increased awareness of digital addiction and the approach to check the menace should be more institutional. Technology can be a double-edged sword. So, one must use it prudently. Technology can be used wisely to counter the ill effects of technology.