Never been a better time to seek help for mental health: Vikram Patel at HTLS 2020
Uncertainties over the coronavirus pandemic have affected everyone’s mental health, Harvard professor Vikram Patel said on Friday at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit 2020. “These extremely extraordinary uncertainties are affecting everyone’s mental health. Whether these will translate into an increased tide of mental illness, still remains to be seen. But there is always a risk that it can happen,” Patel, professor of global health at Harvard Medical School, said while speaking with HT’s editor for health and science Sanchita Sharma on the last day of the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit 2020.
The pandemic and control strategies have disproportionately affected different sections of the community in different ways and for those whose employment prospects have been extinguished altogether, the impact on their mental health is going to be far more serious, he said. “Existing inequalities, that existed before the pandemic, are likely to get even worsened thanks to the changes in our economies in the months and years ahead,” he said.
As Patel talked about the worsening mental health especially among the poor in society, especially exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, he said structural and health interventions that could have helped migrants would have been “unconditional cash transfers, direct income support” to those who have lost jobs particularly the daily wage workers of India. “The second, also recognising that when you develop a mental health problem like depression and anxiety, providing low intensity psychological interventions can actually enable you to recover quickly, to regain hope, to regain the cognitive capabilities to get back into the workforce,” he added.
This has been a “unique moment” as biomedical thinking has focussed on one particular illness and ignored everything else, Patel said. “We have effectively ignored the needs of people who were already suffering from these existing health conditions. As a consequence, we now can see a traumatic increases in those disease, morbidities and mortalities. What we should have done right at the outset was to acknowledge that we cannot shut down our healthcare system, what we need to do is to expand its capabilities to manage Covid-19 but not at the expense of everything else,” he said.
He also said that he has noticed a noticed a huge change recently about reporting on mental health issues in media in the last decade. There is the need to normalise conversations around mental health, Patel stressed. “There is never been a better time to seek help for mental health,” he said.
Patel also said schools, which have been shut amid the rising cases of the coronavirus disease, must open soon otherwise the fallout of the pandemic on students will be “monumental”.