How India took a huge step forward by announcing mental health initiatives in its budget
The government of India has taken an initiative at a national level for mental health issues and awareness, which is extremely important and quite encouraging
The world is still reeling (and will continue to) with the coronavirus pandemic and its after-effects. The unprecedented crisis that has started to become the new normal.
Since its first outbreak in late 2019, COVID-19 has killed millions of people and left millions of others grieving the loss of their loved ones.
Humans have a tendency of moving on quickly in a really fast-paced lifestyle, but sometimes we don't understand to what extent some tragedy has affected us.
Covid has impacted our sanity beyond our understanding, but it's extremely important to identify it and address it before it's too late or starts influencing our day-to-day life or how we behave.
First of all, it is completely normal that people are distressed in the context of the Covid fears and perceived threats.
Unarguably, there will be fear, anxiety and stress. We might see ourselves crying or getting emotional more often even while watching movies and even while reading already-read stories or novels.
For a normal person, it is certainly difficult to understand what's behind the emotional outbursts, why emotions are getting triggered even for the smallest of things.
Sometimes we don't realise that maybe childhood trauma is behind the distress and agony we are facing at the age of 30 and 40. Instead of blaming everything on the pandemic, let's open up and stop being in denial.
How is that possible?
Maybe by taking baby steps. The government of India has taken an initiative at a national level for mental health issues and awareness, which is extremely important and quite encouraging.
While presenting the Union Budget for the year 2022-2023, India's Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a National Tele Mental Health Programme, in view of 'long Covid', the phenomenon of coronavirus-related ailments remaining in patients long after they recover.
The government also informed about rolling out of an open platform for the National Digital Health Ecosystem.
Sitharaman said the programme will be launched to improve access to quality mental health counselling and also care services.
It will consist of digital registries of health providers and health facilities, unique health identity, consent framework and universal access to health facilities.
It's a huge step keeping the current situation and the uncertain future in mind — a step to normalise mental health awareness and an attempt to address the stigma around it.
When such steps are taken by governments at a national level, they will certainly bring about changes in the longer run, opening up a common platform for dialogue over the importance of mental health.
Research published in the journal Plos One has revealed that high distress and anxiety due to coronavirus has resulted in poor psychological well-being. There is a visible increase in suicidal tendencies, exasperated pre-existing mental health conditions.
The research published in August 2021 has stated that stress and anxiety severely affect family relationships and social dynamics. There is also an increase in reported cases of domestic violence and abuse of alcohol.
Another study published in SAGE Journal highlighted how the issue can be tackled. The conclusion part of the study "Mental health implications of COVID-19 pandemic and its response in India", which was published in September 2020 highlighted ways to tackle Covid's impact on mental health.
It stated that keeping a positive approach, developing vulnerable-group-specific need-based interventions with proper risk communication strategies can provide a robust system in the country.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government brought up the issue of mental health while presenting the annual budget, a window has definitely opened to establish a healthy conversation.
What we can do in the future is to normalise it further, understand our health. Give priority to mental sanity. Tell our children why it is important. Also, keep a check of our surroundings, provide information to those who need it.
The rare mention of mental health in the budget has been hailed by the experts. Dr Girdhar Gyani, Director General, Association of Healthcare Providers (India), said the government's intent of focusing on setting up 23-mental health centres will be beneficial in general and more specifically for long Covid patients.
Dr NK Pandey, Chairman and Managing Director, Asian Institute of Medical Sciences, said the cases of depression and anxiety disorders witnessed an increase of about 25 per cent globally, and by 35 per cent in India alone.
"It is encouraging to note the government's attention to addressing the challenge of rising mental health issues in India and proposed to launch a National Tele Mental Health Programme.
"The budget, inculcating the fact that focusing on mental and emotional wellness is the need of the hour, itself talks about how progressive we are becoming in our approach as a nation, Pandey said.