Combating mental illness during a pandemic
Haider Rifaat


Editor's note: Haider Rifaat is a writer for the South China Morning Post, Arabian Moda magazine, Good Times magazine and OK! Pakistan. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Seven out of ten people have experienced suicidal ideation during the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown, according to Clinical Psychologist Dr. Shweta Sharma. The targeted group of this study were individuals between the ages of 25-40 years. Sharma added that this is a 70 percent increase in suicide since March.

Mental illness spares no one. Even children with a negative worldview would feel "out of control," leading to more anxiety, Psychologist Mary Alvord remarked.

Children are consumed by fear, isolation and feel disconnected with the outside world. Paranoia and fear of contracting COVID-19 also cause sheer anxiety and distress, be it children, teenagers or adults. The Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that almost half of Americans believe that the coronavirus is affecting their mental health. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uncovered that adults in America experienced poor mental health because of COVID-19.

Those who feel the need to end their lives run a high risk of committing suicide once they are exposed to a distressful environment. It aggravates their state of mental health and the chances of suicide may increase as a result.

There are numerous potential risk factors that can cause mental illness to rise during a pandemic. Owing to unemployment around the world, especially during a global crisis, people feel insecure about their jobs and not being able to put food on the table for their families. This takes a greater toll on their mental health.



A frail mental health system is a significant shortcoming. Inattention to individuals who have mild to severe symptoms of mental illness can cause more anxiety and suicidal ideation. Though people with mental illness rely on family support and self-therapy, many also depend on formal mental health services.  

Then there is mental illness and the stigma that surrounds it. Countries where mental disorders are looked down upon or are deemed as unreal are societies with rampant cases of mental illness. Allowing this false stigma to thrive during a COVID-19 pandemic, makes it harder for mentally challenged individuals to seek therapy. They feel they will be labelled "manic" or "insane," which are both derogatory terms.

So, what can be done as we navigate through these pressing times? From a workplace standpoint, it is the responsibility of employers to recruit organizational psychologists in key roles to affirm that employees’ mental health is prioritized and safeguarded. Overburdening them with work is not the solution to pull through a global crisis. Instead, be empathetic and encouraging. This will keep their work life balanced, more efficient, and employees in general would feel secure at their workplace.

Parents should spend quality time with their kids to ensure that their mental needs are met. Brisk walks in the backyard, baking in the kitchen together and engaging other family members in play activities would keep things in check.  

The role of school psychologists and guidance counselors is critical in helping the graduating batch with their future career goals and accelerating their growth as students. Furthermore, students lagging behind in their academics can openly discuss their shortcomings and bond with counselors and psychologists in an effort to boost their self-confidence.  

As we steer through a challenging year, one thing we have hopefully learned from COVID-19 is being human. The idea of humanity was lost on us before the coronavirus emerged earlier this year. As we hold on to each other and pray together, let's also not isolate individuals who are going through real-time challenges; suicidal ideation and mental illness for instance. Take care of them but do not forget yourself in the process. Let's be there for one another and contemplate our purpose in life.  

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