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OP-ED: Let the ignored voices be heard in this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic

  • Published at 09:14 pm July 25th, 2020
mental health quarantine
A problem that has been ignored for too long BIGSTOCK

Just like Covid-19, problems of mental health can also be deadly

Amongst the myriad of lessons learned from WWII (1939-1945), a crucial one happens to be the importance of mental health. Hence the post-war era brought about the idea of a World Health Organization (WHO) and a Mental Health Association (London).

Nonetheless, the term mental health was originally coined in 1843 in a book by William Sweetser, and was initially termed “mental hygiene.”

Over the years, the definition might have changed, but according to WHO, mental health still refers to “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

In layman’s words, mental health is our minds’ health simply like physical health means our body’s health. As the definition goes, with or without our knowledge, our mental health affects almost ever

y aspect of our lives and most importantly, it helps us to get through our usual stresses.Usually, a mentally healthy person is likely to make better decisions in life, act and react sensibly, and think wisely whilst those with mental illnesses are unlikely to master the ability to deal with problems.

Consequently, the impact of mental health can be rewarding or devastating, as it has the potentiality of both boosting confidence and pulverizing one’s hope. And while these impacts are severe, it affects people irrespective of their pay scale, as these people could be our next-door neighbours or renowned figures like Chester Bennington and Sushant Singh Rajput.

On October 4, 2019, WHO stated in a world health report that around 450 million people suffered mental illness, making it one of the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

According to a survey carried out in April-June 2019 to comprehend the mental health scenario of Bangladesh, it was determined that nearly 17% of Bangladeshi adults had mental illnesses and 92.3% of them remain untreated.

While reasons for mental illness are enumerated in a non-exhaustive list, two of the most common ones are traumatic life experiences and loneliness or isolation.

Nonetheless, wars, disasters, chemical imbalances in the brain, intake of drugs and alcohol, family genes, or having fewer friends can also be some of the many reasons why a person could become mentally unhealthy. These people, if left untreated, often end up in serious depression and try taking their lives.

According to a 2017 statistic from the police, around 30 people attempt suicide every day. Over a span of seven years (2010-2017), the number of people who committed suicide increased from 9,665 to 11,095 indicating a 14.8% rise. However, the police stated that these numbers may be deflated, as many suicides go unreported.

The severity of the situation has only been aggravated by the extended lockdown, caused by the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic this year, largely resulting in isolation due to lockdown, the rise of domestic violence, and unexpected loss of employment amongst other things.

According to a report, published by BBC, cases of domestic violence have increased by as much as 20% during the lockdown, while an article published in The Financial Times reveals that according to a report of the International Labour Organization, about 200 million people lost their jobs during the lockdown.

The situation appears to be no different for Bangladesh if reports from local leading newspapers are to be believed -- almost every country in the world has reported a sharp rise in the number of suicide cases during the same.

For instance, as reported by The Jakarta Post, over 1,200 people committed suicide during the 74 days of lockdown in Nepal. As per the reports in the Economic Times, almost 300 people committed suicide in India during the same period, while DW has reported a similar situation in Europe.

An article published by The Guardian on July 8 stated that Covid-19 patients, even those with mild symptoms, can suffer from serious brain disorders, including, inter alia, inflammation of the central nervous system, brain disease with delirium or psychosis, or Guillain-Barré syndrome.

They have also expressed concerns on the whole spectrum of brain disorders caused by Covid-19 not being identified yet.

With 14,646,707 confirmed cases of Covid-19 around the world, which is only increasing every day, what we can deduce from this report is that without proper steps being taken now and in the post-Covid-19 world, we will see a significant rise in the number of people suffering from brain disorders, and thus becoming suicidal.

What can be done?

Can anything really be done? Thankfully, the answer is yes, we can but we will have to focus on protecting our mental health more than ever now in the wake of this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

What can be expected from the governments around the world is to take widespread measures such as advertisements, campaigns with the help of local NGOs to promote the idea of seeking help from an expert when needed, and making people realize that it is absolutely normal to do so.

They can also instruct institutions and companies (public and private) capable of doing so to hold at least one mental health assessment session every month in co-operation with an expert for their students and staff.

They can simultaneously promote healthy lifestyles, including nutrition and exercise, as many academics and professionals including Jacobo Mintzer, Keaveny Anne Donovan, Nicholas Barracca, and John R Hughes have claimed that more physical activity, sleeping longer, a healthy diet, and cutting down on smoking can play a crucial part in protecting brain health.

Arafat Reza is a teaching assistant at the London College of Legal Studies (South). Anusha Islam Raha is  a teacher.

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