CHENNAI: Amid news on the rising number of cases and deaths, social distancing and being forced to stay indoors, COVID-19 has taken a toll on the mental health of many. But the plight of people who already have mental health problems is unimaginable as the pandemic continues to spread. They say it is getting harder to survive by the day.
Some of the major issues are unavailability and unaffordability of medicines due to shortages and a financial crunch respectively. Those affected have even gone to the extent of ending their lives due to this.
"The pandemic pushed people already living with mental health issues further into darkness. People who have money are unable to procure their medicines due to unavailability. More importantly, since a lot of people lost their jobs and the medicines cost anywhere between Rs 30 and Rs 50 per day, they are unable to afford it," said P Thiruchelvi who has bipolar disorder.
She further added that people with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and psychosis are the worst affected. "Others can at least manage a little. But, those with these disorders, if they do not take medicines, they get suicidal thoughts. Three people I know killed themselves in the last three months as they did not take medicines and could not handle the pressure," she said.
Non-availability of their regular doctors is also a perennial problem. According to RS Vihari of Nungambakkam, who has schizophrenia, only a few doctors are seeing their patients over video calls. Most of them are not available. So there is nobody for official therapy or to change the medicines in case of added pressure.
In terms of treatment, they are again suffering a relapse instead of moving towards recovery as there is no help. "My husband was working as an auto driver. Ever since the pandemic began, he has not been earning anything and we are struggling to eat food. I took treatment for my depression for three years. But since the last three months, I have not been able to afford a single tablet. I do not know how I feel anymore," said a 38-year-old woman on condition of anonymity.
She further added that one of her friends too had killed herself as she did not find any help and called on the government to provide free psychiatric aid for such people.
Lack of financial assistance and guardians is another issue, said social activist, Ponn Mohandas. "Normally, at least half of them who are recovering buy medicines on their own. During a pandemic, with darkness looming over them, they need a guardian to take care of them. But nobody is coming forward. Also, this section of people have not received any financial aid yet, which could better their situation," he said.
(If you are having suicidal thoughts, or are worried about a friend or need emotional support, someone is always there to listen. Call Sneha Foundation - 04424640050 (available 24x7) or iCall, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences' helpline - 02225521111, which is available Monday to Saturday from 8 am to 10 pm.)