Address for correspondence: Santosh K Chaturvedi, Former Dean & Senior Professor of
Psychiatry, NationalInstitute of MentalHealth & Neurosciences, Bangalore -560029, India
How to cite this article?
Chaturvedi S. What do I do? The predicament of Mental Health Education during Pandemics and looking forward. Journal of Mental HealthEducation.2021;3(1):1-3
The role of mental health education was exemplified during this current pandemic. On one hand, its role was inpromotion of health in general and mental health in particular, on the other hand it had to deal with mental health issues related to the pandemic. There were numerous mental health issues which emerged, some unimaginable. There were fears and anxieties related to contracting or spreading infection, and there were stigma issues towards frontline workers and health professionals. Mental health education professionals thus needed to focus on the emerging issues which kept changing by the days.
They had to put other general mental health promotion and education issues on the back burner, those issues were still as relevant as ever. This was similar to the situation of the medical profession; the predicament of doctors who were mired in confusion about what their duty is and what they should do; save one life at the cost of losing another! Is it their duty to follow the instructions or orders from their health leaders and systems or listen to the voice of their conscience? If they follow the directions from their health leaders, they are consigned to live with the guilt of not doing their duty lifelong.
The features of this ‘what do I do?’ phenomenon is related to healthcare delivery and related matters, including mental health education. These have been experienced and reported by many of our colleagues facing this predicament. The dilemma is the compromised autonomy of the mental health education workers, their inability to do what they think is right and needed. Mental health education programs on common mental disorders, situations and conditions were halted, even though these had some links with the pandemic. In the pre Covid-19 times general public were all advised to do regular physical activity, go for a walk or a swim, or regular outdoor exercises in order to improve their respiratory and cardiac functions and attaining well- being. All these were prohibited during the lockdown making people more vulnerable to deal with the pandemic stress.
Stigma is an important theme in mental health education programs. One of the key objectives of mental health promotion and education programs is reducing stigma towards mental illness and those with mental illness. The pandemic has caused so much mental tension, anxieties and fears that the role of mental health professionals and interventions has seemingly become as important as the search for cure or treatment of the viral infection. There is also tremendous stigma towards covid-19, people who turned positive on testing, or were at high risk, or primary or secondary contacts. On the positive side, the government and public have become well aware of the mental health issues, fears, anxieties and stress related to covid-19 and launched extensive and mental health education on this aspect. Mental health counsell or sare being sought after and multiple telephone help-lines have been launched. The counselling for such mental health issues and stigma could mainly be provided through remote methods, like, tele-counselling and chats. Numerous health education materials in the form of pamphlets, videos and use of technology to deal with this stigma have been launched to counter the effect of stigma, negative impact of rumors, and to provide accurate and authentic information. Thus, stigma associated with Covid-19 pandemic has reduced stigma towards mental health and seeking mental health services and counselling! The rumors and misinformation proved to be more than or as contagious as the virus itself.
This has led to fear in the public.This also led to stigma, not only against the infection, but those who were even remotely associated with it. Rumors, like the virus, are infectious. Fear and anxiety produced by such rumors are transmitted even if social distancing is maintained. These cause widespread panic. A suitable way to deal with these would be providing authentic knowledge and information through appropriate health information and mental health education. These should be in different forms in order to reach the general population, through mass media and social media.
A task force was set up to address the mental health aspects of the pandemic and make a plan for action for psychosocial support. The committee suggested certain interventions may be executed in the post-pandemic period, which included – preparations for addressing long term reactions, which may evoke varied emotional response from the population, such as suicide attempts, substance use and alike; support people in adjusting themselves to the ‘new normal’ state, by providing continued psychosocial support; enhance the resilience, coping, and adaptation levels in the community by devising specific awareness and interventions programs and promote healthy lifestyles and habits to prevent future pandemics or the morbidities associated with pandemics. Specific interventions on psychosocial support for Covid-19 response included development of sensitization/training material for frontline workers including health professionals for providing psychosocial support to such people, sensitization of frontline workers including health professionals, development and dissemination of messages to address anxiety, stigma and discrimination. For caregivers, it was suggested to develop and disseminate messages for addressing psychosocial issues of family caregivers’ burden and trauma including health professionals and other frontline workers and development and dissemination of messages for addressing psychosocial issues of people of vulnerable groups among the general population. Other suggestions to be considered were development of sensitization/training material for frontline workers including health professionals for providing psychosocial support vulnerable groups of people; and development and dissemination of messages for addressing social stigma attached with people in quarantine/isolation and frontline workers. As can be seen in these suggestions, the role of mental health education in management of the impact of the pandemic are of paramount significance. The health education and mental health education sections and departments need more support and resources in order to meet the goals and objectives of facing the psychosocial consequences of the pandemic. Being in the midst of multiple strains and waves, it is clear, people have to live with this and similar pandemics in future. Being prepared to face the uncertainties this time will definitely be of great help and support.