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COVID-19 will spur suicide-related deaths in India, experts fear

On World Suicide Prevention Day, experts urge better mental health infrastructure to prevent surge in suicide-related deaths

Ahmad Adil   | 10.09.2021
COVID-19 will spur suicide-related deaths in India, experts fear

NEW DELHI 

While thousands of people reportedly die due to suicide in India every year, experts fear a further spurt due to COVID-19-related economic woes.

On the eve of World Suicide Prevention Day, which is being observed on Friday, mental health experts and psychiatrists say that the COVID-19 outbreak has surged mental health issues, with the potential to increase incidences of suicides.

According to National Crime Records Bureau, India reported 139,123 suicides in 2019, an increase of 3.4% compared to 2018.

"Focus should be to face the next decade of the pandemic of mental health. We also need to improve the infrastructure of mental health and accessibility to mental health services," Dr. Shubhangi R. Parkar, former head of psychiatry department at the King Edward Memorial Hospital in the financial capital Mumbai, told Anadolu Agency.

She urged tackling the mental health impact of the virus and taking timely measures.

A 2018 study by the medical journal Lancet had said that India's contribution to global suicide deaths has increased from 25.3% in 1990 to 36.6% in 2016 among women, and from 18.7% to 24.3% among men.

According to Dr. Shubhangi, who is among India’s leading psychiatrists, while the pandemic is expected to end shortly, its effects testing economic and psychological health will extend beyond time.

Describing the loss of jobs and economic burden as a critical factor leading to mental crises like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), she said they will be further complicated with hopelessness and desperation leading to more suicides.

Dr. Adarsh Kohli, another psychiatrist, said due to a host of factors like economic slowdown, job losses, increasing anxiety, depression, and inability to reach out to people have been increased incidences of suicides during the pandemic.

Fewer reporting, despite decriminalization

Although suicides were decriminalized in the country in 2018, the experts say the reporting is still meager.

According to World Health Organization, suicide is emerging as the most serious public health issue in India, with the population of 15-29, elderly, and people with special needs most vulnerable.

Dr. Sandeep Bhola, a psychiatrist with the northern Punjab provincial government, says that country does not have a sufficient policy for suicide prevention and the stigma attached to mental health does not allow patients to visit the health facility.

He asked for creating awareness and removing all the stigma are the keys to deal with the situation.

"The policymakers and mental health professionals must come to the same level of understanding and act accordingly to help such persons," says Dr. Bhola.

Johnson Thomas, the director of Aasra, a Mumbai-based non-governmental organization working in the field of mental health, said the profile of people after the pandemic has also changed.

"Earlier we had many students and young adults battling depression and suicidal ideation due to peer pressure, exams, results, broken romances, or relationship problems. But now we get calls from people of all age groups struggling with survival/existential issues; unemployment, loss of jobs and income, huge unpayable debts, inability to provide food or shelter for their loved ones," he said.

In a written reply in the upper house of the parliament, the Health Ministry earlier this year listed several steps to address the impact of COVID-19 on mental health, including setting up the clock helpline to provide psychological support to the entire affected population.

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