BENGALURU: While there has been much talk on the impact of Covid-19 on mental health, experts say that it is better to take action through community health workers, instead of waiting for India-specific impact data.
There is a need to use frontline workers – Asha and Anganwadi staff – and train them on foundation skills to deal with mental health issues through digital media, said Dr Vikram Patel, professor of global health and population at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, on Saturday.
“Our greatest assets are community health workers. If we look at the Covid-19 response, what really is going to save India is its frontline workers. The idea of the community health worker is being exported. The more we acknowledge them, the more we compensate them, the greater will be our health care’s success stories,” he said, delivering the Dr Samuel Paul Memorial Lecture on “Reimagining mental health care in the shadow of the pandemic”.
Dr Patel said that Goa-based NGO Sangath, which he cofounded, is running a training programme on these lines and a similar one is being transplanted in the US.
Emphasising that there should be no excuse to not invest in public health care, he said that the need of the hour is to reform existing mental health institutions so that they are like “hospitals and not prisons”, and adopt a rights-based approach.
There is a need to regulate both private and public health care systems and monitor their quality.
On the way forward, he said people need to be aware of mental health issues and acknowledge that it is “ok to be not ok”.
Once people are aware, they should seek help from, be it from family or friends. Also, people could use techniques of meditation to refocus attention to the internal world to help deal with anxiety.
When anxiety doesn’t subside even after two weeks, it’s important “to seek help from a professional. It is mostly women and youngsters who need help during now. They need to be insulated from uncertainty,” he said.
On handling work place stress, he said, Sangath and Aarogya World website have guidelines on their portal.