Covid 19 lockdown and Suicides in India

By Aarya Gavai

Almost seven months into the world wide lockdown due to Covid-19 and the huge difference between our routine lifestyle and our quarantine lifestyle is clear. While the media glorified how us humans were making the most out of the time we have on our hands or rather given to us due to the imposed lockdown, the flip side of this event is not as pretty but scary and shocking. The thalis that were banged to praise our front line workers were loud enough for them to know that we all care and respect their work but the cacophony of dying migrant workers, farmers, unemployment, declining economy, mental health and most importantly death by suicide went unheard.

In India, between March and June, 298 cases of suicide were reported, more than double the number for the same period last year. Of 298 suicides, 109 were due to financial distress, 55 to fear of infection, 33 due to withdrawal. It took the death of one huge celebrity for the media to focus it’s attention from discussing the number of Corona deaths to fabricating information and creating conspiracies about mental health of the privileged.

A study from World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds. Data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that daily wage workers, those earning less than 1 lakh per annum but educated upto the secondary level have the highest share in the number of suicides in India in 2018. As of 2020 according to the ministry of labor and employment the deaths of thousands of migrants have not been recorded saying “no such data is available”. Out of 800,000 suicides worldwide; 135,000 (17%) are residents of India, a nation with 17.5% of world’s population. Maharashtra alone has the highest suicide rate of 11.9% backed by Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.

According to WHO data, the age standardised suicide rate in India is 16.4 per 100,000 for women (6th highest in the world) and 25.8 for men (22 ranking). With mental illness comes the doting stigma of suicide. According to the myths it is expected from the person with mental illness to show extreme form of the illness as shown in the Films and Tv shows only then their illness is valid which is absolutely untrue and wrong to begin with. There are various forms of mental illnesses apart from depression. Some are aggressive to begin with while some grow over the course of time. It is important to notice small changes or patterns in our daily behaviour and analyse our routine according to it. The lockdown has caused unprecedented changes in people’s lives. According to a survey by Mavericks India, 61% of Indians are experiencing mental health related issues during this lockdown.

A study by the Uinited Nations shows how the lives of people has been affected due to multiple stress factors that emerged in the pandemic and political response. Frontline workers like doctors, nurses, police officials are in dire need of psychological support. 47% of health workers expressed their need for psychological help in a study conducted by Potloc. Healthcare workers are reporting high rates of depression (50%), anxiety (45%), and insomnia (34%). These figures are of significant concern, particularly in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Gujarat where the number of daily reported cases is very high.

Coping with this psychological stress has been quite hard, and many in India have chosen suicide as a way out of their grim reality. The initial stage of lockdown saw a higher number of suicides due to fear while the later stage noted the highest spike in suicide rates due to financial distress, unemployment and income loss. As the restrictions on movement were severe during these phases, suicide dude to loneliness and self isolation reported were in triple digits. The UN policy brief on COVID19 and mental health says that most countries spend only around 2% of their health budgets on mental health: in India the scenario is even worse. In 2020 the budget allocated for mental health is 0.05 percent of the total healthcare budget, according to news reports. Apart from publishing a helpline number since the pandemic, the Union government has come up with no further efforts in this area. Further, Indian governments’ overall healthcare expenditure is a paltry 3.5% of GDP according to World Bank data, a proportion which has been declining since 2001. The international average is 10% of GDP.

It is only recently that the millennials and GenZ has normalised to talk about mental health related issues and suicide and to seek therapy even at the slightest acknowledgement of any kind of illness and trauma. The fact that an all inclusive term such as mental illness is used and not depression, anxiety, ADHD, self harm, addiction, paranoia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, PTSD, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts is because we shouldn’t be comfortable about it and treat them as an illness like any other illnesses.

Aryaa Gavai is an intern with The Colourboard. She is currently pursuing her Bachelors in Mass Media in Mumbai

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