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Is it Positioned to Become a Bigger Epidemic?

Dubai – This October, the world steps into its eighth month of the pandemic, which shows no signs of abating. According to public health experts, we could be stepping into a second wave that could be worse. The past months have brought many challenges: social and economic, being the major ones. As the world learns to cope with one of the greatest calamities ever, one cannot ignore its effects on people’s lives, and mental well-being is a matter of significant concern. And as the expert’s fear, the second pandemic could be that of a mental health crisis, as people battle COVID-19.

The pandemic has thrust people into isolation, anxiety, poverty, and unprecedented challenges. It is also inching close to a catastrophe of impending deterioration of mental health that looms on us. The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes World Mental Health Day on October 10 every year. This year’s theme set by the World Federation for Mental Health is ‘mental health for all.’

Owing to the extraordinary times now and its psychological impact on society and individuals, it is imperative to talk about and pay attention to our mental health. As per WHO, “Mental Health is the most neglected area of public health. Close to 1 billion people live with a mental disorder; 3 million people die every year from the harmful use of alcohol, and one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide.”

And now, COVID-19 has brought drastic changes in the lives of billions of people worldwide and has pushed them into a deep mental health crisis. There are healthcare workers who go to work with the anxiety of catching the virus and spreading it on to their loved ones; they also face the devastating nature of the virus firsthand. We have come across stories of unimaginable courage where healthcare workers have succumbed to COVID while on duty and not visit their families for days and months.

There are teachers and students, adapting to taking classes from home, with little contact with each other. The young generation suffers from anxiety and sees a future that has less hope. A world survey alarmingly pointed out the rise in domestic violence towards women and children as they were painstakingly confined to their abusers’ homes. People and workers were losing their livelihood and were caught in delicate humanitarian situations with minimal protection from COVID-19.

Adding to all this is the task of managing the unbearable grief of losing a loved one, sometimes without a proper farewell. Then there is the growing problem of the stigma that is associated with COVID-19.

In a recent survey, ‘Anxiety’ came up as the most common mental health disorder people suffered from; statistics showed one out of three suffered from either one of these, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Anxiety Disorder (PAD) or Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). Perhaps it is a mirror of the current times that we live in.

Countries like UAE that give prime importance to happiness and wellbeing have dedicated hotlines set up by their Ministry of Health and Prevention, to respond to psychological concerns and anxiety related to COVID-19. There are also ongoing Government campaigns that aim at communication and counselling during these times of isolation.

There are individuals and organizations too that are spreading awareness of mental health wellbeing during these times. Schools and Educators are more vigilant towards the behavior patterns of the students.

Given all these emergencies, the need for investing in mental health programmed at the national and international level becomes a necessity. And as requests for help increase, WHO data shows that the crisis has affected critical mental health services in 93% of countries. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, says, “Good mental health is absolutely fundamental to overall health and wellbeing, COVID-19 has interrupted essential mental health services around the World just when they’re needed most. World leaders must move fast and decisively to invest more in life-saving mental health programmed ̶ during the pandemic and beyond.”

As the pandemic continues, there will be a growing need for support on mental health issues from national and international mental health programs, more than ever before. These programs have, over the years, suffered chronic underfunding. Before the pandemic, countries were spending less than 2% of their federal health budget on mental health. According to WHO, mental health still receives less than 1% of global aid reserved for health.

This World Mental Health Day, WHO called for escalated funding in mental health – a sector it says is “chronically underfunded” – at all levels of society, from individuals to businesses and countries.

On World Mental Health Day, October 10, WHO hosted a global online advocacy Event on mental health for the first time ever. The World Mental Health Day 2020 campaign offered opportunities, practically online, given the continuing pandemic, for all of us to do something that celebrated life.

It made sure we, as individuals, took responsibility and informed actions to support our own mental health and support friends and family that were struggling. It also urged us as employers to take steps towards putting in place employee wellness programs, as the government to pledge to create mental health services; and as journalists, to elucidate the masses on the importance of creating awareness on mental health arising out of the COVID-19 crisis.

Faced with new realities of work from home, uncertainty, unemployment, home-schooling, and absence of physical contact with loved ones, family members, friends and colleagues, we must look after our mental and physical health. To help achieve this, we must keep in mind the following points.

First and foremost, to stop worrying about things you have no control on and try to shift focus to something you can control.

Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Avoid touching your face (particularly your eyes, nose, and mouth).

Stay home as much as possible.

Avoid crowds and gatherings of 10 or more people.

Maintain social distance when you go out.

Follow a routine of healthy eating, exercising and sleep patterns.

Follow all recommendations from concerned health authorities.

Read updates on the pandemic from verified channels.

Avoid too much news on social media.

WHO leads the global fight against COVID-19. Material and tips relating to looking after our mental health during COVID 19 are provided on WHO websites.

(Facts taken from WHO websites)

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