COVID-19 pandemic likely to unleash a long-term mental health issues in Nepal

Published On: May 20, 2020 11:20 AM NPT By: Aditi Baral

KATHMANDU, May 20: To flatten the COVID-19 curve, countries have taken various measures. As nationwide lockdown extends, people across Nepal have been talking about mental health. “Lockdown has posed a serious threat to mental health and the well-being of people, which will last for a long time to come,” said Dr. Ritesh Thapa, director and consultant psychiatrist at Rhythm Neuropsychiatry Hospital.

By the time the spread of coronavirus is curbed, it will likely give rise to a wide range of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and panic attacks, frustration and irritation, sleeping problems, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or even self-harm and serious eating disorders. The current situation will be a fertile ground for increased alcoholism, and also various social crimes.

According to a data provided by Nepal Police, in the first month of lockdown, a total of 487 suicide cases were filed. Before that, about 400 cases were filed on an average every month. Suicide is often termed as the most extreme consequence of almost all kinds of mental health problems. 

In a conversation with Republica online, Aayush Sedhai, 17, shared a story of one of his friends who tried to self-harm during this lockdown. According to Sedhai, who asked to keep his friend’s name anonymous, his friend had pre-existing anxiety and often needed people around him to feel better. But the two-month long lockdown intensified his anxiety and stress levels. 

“The last time I saw my friend was two months ago. We have conversations online. He was acting strange but didn’t tell me anything. But two weeks ago, his sister told me that they found him practicing self-harming methods,” Sedhai told Republica.    

Concerned over mental health issues, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on May 13 urged governments, civil society and health authorities to urgently address the problems arising from the coronavirus pandemic. "After decades of neglect and under-investment in mental health services, the COVID-19 pandemic is now hitting families and communities with additional mental stress," he said.

The risk is relatively high among people who have pre-existing mental health issues. But the risk is also high for a wide range of people – even mentally healthy individuals with no record of pre-existing mental health issues.

The social and economic fractures exposed by the pandemic are expected to result in unemployment, washed-out social safety nets and starvation and many other social problems. Teenagers, job holders, workers (particularly the daily wage workers) are at most risk of having mental health issues.

The frontline health workers, security personnel and the COVID-19 survivors are also projected to be on the edge, and they are likely to have mental health issues. “Frontline health workers are vulnerable to mental health issues as they are working away from their home and family,” Dr. Thapa explained adding “Extreme burden from work can cause frustration and even severe cases of PTSD”.  

The increase in the number of coronavirus cases has also started triggering symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in many people. Suman Poudel, 23, told her family’s story to Republic online. Her parents, especially her father, have started showing symptoms of OCD. Her father is often seen yelling at other family members to repeatedly wash their hands and he doesn’t even allow them to go to their terrace or balcony. “On Thursday, he read about the first death from the virus in Nepal, and since then he hasn’t let any of us go to our terrace,” she said.

Reecha Kafle, 16, also shared about her eating disorder that she developed during this lockdown. “Binge eating is a coping mechanism for me during this lockdown” she said, adding “I didn’t realize that it was a type of mental health problem until my elder sister tried to make me aware about its consequences.” According to health experts, issues like eating disorders aren't given much attention at the beginning but it may invite other issues in the long run.

Doctors also warn that patients who are infected with COVID-19 are at a greater risk of developing mental health issues. Dr.Thapa suggested that these patients require extra care and affection, as facing discrimination and stigmatization from their own family members and society can cause serious mental health issues.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has published strategies to help people protect their mental health during the coronavirus crisis.

  1. The strategies include:
  2. Recognizing that your anxiety is completely normal
  3. Creating distractions
  4.  Finding new ways to connect with your friends
  5. Focusing on yourself
  6.  Feeling your feelings and
  7.  Being kind to yourself and others

 Republica’s reports on mental health issues during lockdown: 

1. Lockdown casts a long shadow on people’s mental health: Nationwide survey

2. Rolpa finds it harder to cope with lockdown, mental health issues surfacing

3. Three in every five employees lost their jobs in Nepal due to COVID-19 crisis

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