RAIPUR: With the surge in coronavirus cases in Chhattisgarh, mental healthcare workers had gradually begun noticing warning signs among the public -- suggestive of an increase in mental health issues.
Several among them were seen being uneasy owing to the stigma attached to the fatal infection while others feared a threat to life, which leads to panic.
The initial spike in the state's cases was caused by the returning migrants, and just like in the rest of the country, Chattisgarh also saw an increase in mental health disorders.
Close to 20,000 patients visited the outdoor patients department (OPDs) for mental healthcare service across Chhattisgarh from April till June. The numbers were high in the following districts - Dhamtari, Bilaspur, Rajnandgaon and Kawardha. Till June 30 the state reported 2,858 total positive cases.
The state’s team of mental healthcare staff has its hands full—from learning new things themselves to counselling and treating others, as they work overtime to grapple with the stress, and the uncertainty and worry among migrants.
According to the consultant-psychiatrists, the primary cause of the stress and the obsessive-compulsive disorder are fear of infection, non-availability of basic amenities, job loss and financial insecurity.
While the number of suicides is being compiled, the attempted suicides reported during the duration were 1,382 from Jangir-Champa.
In the districts of Baloda Bazar and Dhamtari both of which accounted for a high migrant influx, the attempted suicides were 3516 and 1726 respectively. Each month more than 800 counselling sessions were held to pull these people out of self-harming mode.
The State Mental Health Hospital at Sendri (Bilaspur), Chhattisgarh’s only mental hospital, saw a moderate increase in the OPD visits between April and June with the numbers rising to 987, 1292 and 1555 respectively.
Additionally, as many as 14,225 people in various quarantine centres were examined and 13,815 were counselled during this period. Of these, 967 were identified with clinical mental illnesses.
The largest number of sessions were held in districts where the migrant inflow was high.
“We are using telemedicine technology for mental health patients, particularly for COVID-19 response. Tele-consultation also empowered the primary care doctors to effectively deliver mental health services to the under-served population,” says Niharika Barik Singh, Secretary, department of health and family welfare.
Those working on the ground found workload was increasing all of a sudden. "Routine work was limited to OPD and some home visits. Visits to quarantine centres became a full-time activity for us," stated Atit Rao, community nurse, based in Raigarh.
Prashant Pandey, a psychiatric social worker referred to the amount of stress felt by mental health professionals. “Knowing well about the repercussions, we maintain our calm." He said that they would never put their distress or pressure on those they treat.
Many patients sought teleconsultation and called the helpline for advice. The District Mental Health Programme has been rolled out in 27 of the 28 districts with 26 districts having fully functional tele-clinics.
Chhattisgarh was already training its doctors on basic mental healthcare to ensure treatment right up to the village level.