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  • 10 October, 2020

  • 10 Min Read

Saving lives under the long shadow of the pandemic

Saving lives under the long shadow of the pandemic


  • The editorial highlights the fact that, along with fighting the COVID-19 virus, there is a growing need to make mental health and suicide prevention a priority.

Impacts of COVID-19:

  • Mental health has been affected severely owing to the fear of being infected and anxiety about an uncertain present and future.
  • Necessary precautions such as social distancing, limited interactions and mask usage have become the new normal, with huge social, physical, economic and mental consequences.
  • Previous studies suggest an elevated risk of suicide during such times.
  • There is some evidence that ‘deaths by suicide increased in the United States during the 1918-19 influenza pandemic, and among older people in Hong Kong during the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic’.
  • Lockdowns have led to isolation, in turn, heightening anxiety and causing depression in societies, particularly in vulnerable communities.
  • Dire socio-economic conditions arising from the pandemic such as mass migration, unemployment and economic distress make at-risk groups even more vulnerable during these times.
  • The fear of getting infected, coupled with a lack of knowledge and the economic fallout has created a new level of stress not seen by many before.
  • This situation is the worse among vulnerable populations who are susceptible to greater risks of infections, such as health-care workers, infected people, the elderly, migrant workers, those from resource-poor backgrounds, women facing domestic violence, individuals with compromised immunity, and those suffering from physical or psychological problems.

Pre-pandemic situation in India:

  • Before the pandemic, India’s progress as one of the fastest-growing economies led to large paradigm shifts in the daily lives of its citizens.
  • Major lifestyle shifts led to the rise of many lifestyle disorders in the last decade.
  • Mental health disorders are one of the disorders of most concern, which have been swept under the carpet of stigma and discrimination.
  • Many suicides are related to psychological disorders and distress.

Steps taken

  • India has created a task force to develop a National suicide prevention strategy.
  • The plan incorporates the three universal strategies, including a ban or reduction in access to highly hazardous pesticides, reduction in consumption and availability of alcohol, and a non-sensationalised and responsible portrayal of suicide by the media.
  • The media would need to follow the Press Council of India’s guidelines on reportage of suicide and also create awareness about suicide prevention.

Way Forward:

  • There is a growing need to make mental health and suicide prevention a priority.
  • At an individual level, any early signs of poor mental health such as a sudden change in behaviour, substance use, anxiety, disturbed sleep and difficulty in communication should not be ignored.
  • Being informed and limiting oneself to authentic sources of information and reducing exposure to distressing news is a good mechanism to help a person cope with the situation.
  • A system intervention can focus on identifying, supporting and referring suicidal individuals at all levels of the health-care system.
  • There is an urgent need for destigmatising suicide as a phenomenon and ensure there is an increase in the number of functional and accessible helplines.
  • Suicide prevention requires a mix of a top-down and a bottom-up approach, ensuring that all interventions are rooted in empathy.

Source: TH


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