The entire world has been engulfed by the COVID-19 pandemic causing enormous loss of life, property and liberty of the masses. News channels—print media, audio and audio-visual media—have been churning innumerable pieces of information about the death, destruction, economic downturn, loss of freedom of people to move, eat, attend offices, do business, impart education and entertain themselves in practically every country in the world. The difference is in degree and not in the quality of the impact of the pandemic on people’s lives.
While considerable attention has been given to rising unemployment, growing poverty rates, bailout of small, medium and big businesses, promoting online education due to closure of all educational institutions etc., only very recently focus has shifted to the mental health condition of people of all ages, sexual orientations, class, places of residence, race, ethnicity, colour and religions.
A billion-plus students who are not able to attend classes in educational institutions and are confined to their homes have psychological problems of their own. Students who have been eagerly waiting to move on to professional courses and are unable to do so because of the closure of the educational institutions are severely showing signs of anxiety and helplessness. Working parents, who have to now work at home, are overburdened in cases where their children have to undergo online classes and tests. And all these in the backdrop of the digital divide in developed as well as developing countries. Almost half of the global population do not have access to the internet!
Visuals have been beamed around the world of millions of workers in the informal economic sectors losing their jobs and a large number of internal and international migrant workers returning to their homes. Migrant workers’ physical sufferings are evident to the naked eyes, but their mental stress remain within their mind and heart!
Not many people empathize with small business owners or owners of medium-sized enterprises. The shopkeepers, restaurant owners, small size entertainment companies are on the verge of bankruptcies. Both the owners and the managerial class are undergoing tremendous mental agonies.
Significantly, even the political class in all forms of political systems have the stress of their own. The responsibility of the governing class to come to terms with the pandemic creates its own level of stress and strain.
In other words, people who belong to all strata of life are undergoing mental health problems for the last several months. Common people go to places of worship to seek psychological support, even those are closed or have limited access. Those who go to gurus and yogis are not in a position to attend their programmes, as a large assembly of people is prohibited as a safeguard measure against the Covid19 spread.
The internet certainly is full of information about yoga, meditation and different types of exercises that are stress-busters. But a large number of severely affected people cannot access those advices.
In any case, yoga and meditation cannot help those who are hungry, unemployed and are not certain about when they will be able to start earning money again. The COVID-19 has posed a big challenge to both the prosperous and the poor, the physically strong as well as weak, the highly educated as well as the illiterate.
The physical health infrastructure of hundreds of countries around the world has been found to be inadequate to provide care to COVID-19 patients. Such a pandemic was not expected and last time the world experienced a pandemic in such a large scale was about a hundred years ago. And thus no country was prepared for such a calamity. Compared to this, the mental health infrastructure has been much inferior.
The current pandemic in a way has rung an alarm bell. The attention given to mental health in schools, colleges and universities are much less than required. Developing credible systems to keep people mentally healthy will take time. But there is a dire need to cope with the current mental health crisis.
New and unprecedented challenges are at hand. Is it not ironical that a large number of prisoners had to be released from jails in some countries to prevent Coronavirus spread? It has both physical and psychological impact. Some prisoners who were at least getting free food in jails will have to fend for themselves! At the same time, they will generate insecurity in the minds of people who may fall victims to some of the criminals.
It is also noteworthy that domestic violence has fast increased during the pandemic and creating psychological insecurities within the families.
In addition to the role of the medical scientists, the role of social scientists in fighting such a pandemic is the need of the hour. A sociological perspective, among others, should be adopted in time to address this issue. The International Sociological Association (ISA) has rightly underlined that “a global sociology is needed to better understand the urgent challenges we face in times of pandemic, gather successful experiences, warn on threats and think about the world that will emerge out of this global crisis.”
**The author is the Managing Editor of the Kalinga Institute of Indo-Pacific Studies **