Amid COVID-19 pandemic, webinar on mental health held

Bhubaneswar: COVID-19 pandemic has turned our lives and the world upside down. The stigma around COVID-19 and the burden of the pandemic has resulted in a major mental health crisis across the country. With the spike in positive cases, the virus has come with fear, anxiety and a spate of suicide incidents across the country including our state Odisha.

FLO- the women’s wing of FICCI Bhubaneswar Chapter organized a webinar to spread awareness about mental health, discuss and deliberate about mental health issues and to demystify and remove stigma. The panelists were Dr K Sekar, Registrar & Head of Community Disaster Management, NIMHANS, Bangalore, Arun Bothra, IPS, MD CRUT and humanitarian and Dr Ronak Gandhi, Founder & CEO of Loving Center for Transformation, Ahmedabad.

Be it fear of contracting the virus or the grief of losing a family member, several factors have led to at least eight suicidal deaths in a span of two months. Given the likely magnitude of the pandemic, mental health and psychosocial impact of COVID-19 will be further far-reaching, said Dharitri Patnaik, Chairperson FLO.

“Even though we have had epidemics before, this pandemic is different as it has affected psychologically, emotionally, economically, and most importantly physiologically” Sekar, Registrar NIMHANS said. He outlined all the various types of mental health issues, interventions and NIMHANS’ work since last four decades on man-made and natural disasters and epidemics.

Sekar stressed on developing herd immunity, as body has power to manage any disease it is threatened with. Mental health issues that come during situation are- fear, feeling overwhelmed, anger, confusion, denial, lack of concentration, change in sleep patterns among other symptoms. These issues, he said are normal reactions to the abnormal circumstances. Also panic increases due to stigma, absence of vaccine, etc.

Sekar also explained the stressors at this time- comorbidity, aged parents, migration and poor social support systems. The impacts of COVID are not just physical but psychological, social, mental and economic impacts as well. He also discussed the needs of the people at this time. The support system needs to be stronger and more active.

Sekar’s key message was to focus on the positive, be hopeful, have acceptance, be adaptive, adjust and move on.

Arun Bothra, IPS mentioned that for the first time in his 22 years of career he felt fulfilled and satisfied. Bothra explained how people started getting in touch with him during this time, asking for genuine help in different areas, and once they realised the help was being provided the word spread and India Cares was born and has 3000 volunteers. He is a motivator and the volunteers are handling most of the queries themselves, with him being behind the scenes, for the assistance that they need.

He also discussed on how he had people reaching out to him who had mental health issues and how it has been difficult to handle those. The volunteers also are facing mental health issues, as they also have traumatic experience when the ones they were helping passed away or had a setback. Bothra added that they have certain volunteers who are trained and help counsel.

He also highlighted how important it is to be there for people who are in need and find them solutions and alternatives.

Ronak Gandhi spoke about how healing and transformation begins with the self and with consciousness is shifting. A physician, Zen counselor he emphasized that health depends on taking care not just of our physical health but having a holistic attitude.

We have two ways to look at the situation, either look at the anxiety, fear, uncertainty, or look at how we get time with our families, lesser pollution, better environmental condition and so on, said Gandhi.

Talking about suicides, he said in reality no one wants to die, but they are fed up of their lives. What is important is to shift focus: to make friends, let go of pain, forgive, be loving, meditate and be grateful.

The webinar was chaired by Dharitri Patnaik, Chairperson and moderated by Namrita Chahal, Secretary of FLO Bhubaneswar and was attended by 500 students, social workers, government functionaries, academicians and FLO members.

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