If depression was an abstract concept before, then the Covid-19 pandemic has papered over its existence entirely. The coronavirus lockdown and prolonged periods of social isolation have exacerbated the mental health epidemic to cataclysmic proportions, the ramifications of which we have not even begun to face. The fallout of the ongoing global health crisis is, in no uncertain means, ushering in its invisible successor.
Even as the World Health Organisation states that about 270 million people are currently suffering from depression, much of India refuses to believe that it is a real illness. India accounts for 15% of the global mental, neurological, and substance abuse burden, yet mental distresses here remain heavily stigmatized. Contrary to the misinformation rampant on social media, mental illness is not a byproduct of ‘weakness’, and no one can develop immunity to disorders such as depression and anxiety.
The cure to depression is not a positive mindset: this cavalier and lax approach further isolates and alienates sufferers. Instead of recommending long walks in the park and offering false assurances that ‘this is just a phase’, it is time again that we introspect our role in the conversation about mental health.
There is a universal exigency that we start to play the role of allies instead of enablers, and shift the Indian dining table’s perspective towards the conversation about mental health—from taboo to convention.
The need of the hour is to take into cognizance our emotional well being and treat it on par with our physical health. This is especially important in the Covid-19 era, with pandemic weary citizens facing the brunt of a brutal job market, unemployment, and dystopian new world order. We cannot simply chalk down the blow this pandemic has given our mental health to ‘a shared experience’.
Our suffering in this period is individual and unique, and an oversimplification of this experience is simply unjust. While we rue the human toll the coronavirus has exacted from the world, we must be mindful of its concomitant victims. If Covid-19 testing lapses offer an incomplete image of its global spread, depression and numerous mental health disorders are overwhelmingly undocumented due to widespread stigmatization and lack of psychiatric care.
By shunning people with these illnesses into silence, we force them to believe contrived truths regarding their condition.
Depression is not a derivative of cowardice or a ploy for attention, and OCD is not a loveable quirk.
Treating this pandemic with an iota of the seriousness it deserves may not be enough to placate it completely, but is the least we can do to stave off a secondary and more deadly wave.