The number of COVID-19 infections may have come down in some States but doctors across government-run health institutions are seeing a spike in patients complaining of mental health issues triggered by the virus. Among the mental health problems are depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and trauma caused by near-death experience.
“While we are trying to contain the novel coronavirus, we have to be prepared to deal with a new pandemic caused by the COVID-19 impact on mental health. Handling of such mental health cases may continue for the next few years even after vaccination is completed,” Basudeb Das, director, Central Institute of Psychiatry, said.
Dr. Das, who recently took over as the director of the institute at Kanker in Ranchi, said that not only there is a rise in such cases but two in every 10 patients visiting the health facility have mental health issues triggered by COVID-19.
“We have to think both in terms of short-term and long-term solutions,” he said, adding that it would be crucial to train doctors and associated staff to face the new challenge.
Three Central institutes — Central Institute of Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru, and Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi Regional Institute of Mental Health, Tejpur — have started training for doctors, nurses, and social workers who can provide support to people suffering from post-COVID-19 mental health issues.
Pointing out that his institute has provided training to about 175 doctors in the last few months, Dr. Das said that there is a need to stress on community mental health.
Sujit Sarkhel, associate professor, Institute of Psychiatry, Kolkata, said that about 15% of all patients reporting to hospitals complain of mental health issues due to the impact of COVID-19.
“There are people who have lost family members to the virus. Also there are those who had near-death experiences and were admitted to ICU, but even after their recovery they now have severe bouts of trauma,” Dr. Sarkhel said.
He further said that doctors are coming across a group of people who had no symptoms prior to COVID-19, but have developed anxiety-like symptoms because of the trauma related to the virus.
He explained that the trauma is the result of two major issues: restriction on lifestyle caused by the lockdown and the fear of unknown relating to the spread of infection among family members.