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Demon unleashed by demonetisation: Mental illness

Sometime in mid-November last year, 55-year-old policeman Jay Kumar began feeling extremely low and fearful.

Published: 25th November 2017 11:16 PM  |   Last Updated: 19th August 2018 01:37 AM   |  A+A-

People queue up outside ATMs in New Delhi to withdraw cash after last year’s demonetisation | shekhar yadav

NEW DELHI: Sometime in mid-November last year, 55-year-old policeman Jay Kumar began feeling extremely low and fearful. He also started muttering to himself. Gradually, he fell prey to auditory hallucinations and began contemplating suicide. Alongside came depressive cognitions and anhedonia (inability to find pleasure in normal activities), all symptoms of mental disorder. One day, he wandered away from his Bengaluru home and was found in Pune 40 days later. He was taken to a psychiatrist soon after.

Around the same time, 46-year-old homemaker Vibha, who had stashed a few lakhs for her son’s wedding, suddenly became over-talkative and irritable. She started having third-person auditory hallucinations, although she had no history of psychiatric problems. Her family too sought medical advice.
The instances of Jay and Vibha (both names changed) are two of many case reports presented by two Bengaluru-based psychiatrists in the first-ever documentation of acute mental illness directly triggered by the stress of demonetisation.

The case reports have been published in the latest issue of the Indian Journal of Psychiatry.
On November 8 last year, the Modi regime had announced the demonetisation of `1,000 and `500 notes, throwing the country into a tizzy. The avowed intention was to wipe out black money and crack down on counterfeit cash used to fund terror and illegal activities.

“The sudden nature of the announcement and the prolonged cash shortage in the weeks that followed... created a significant disruption in people’s personal, occupational and social lives,” the case report titled The Enigma of Demonetisation and the Unexplored Consequences noted.

Mind matters
Soon after demonetisation,  a 55-year-old policeman began feeling extremely low and fearful and started muttering. Gradually, he fell prey to auditory hallucinations and began contemplating suicide.
Around the same time, homemaker Vibha, who had stashed a few lakhs for her son’s wedding, became over-talkative and irritable.
Both had to be taken to psychiatrists.

There is also an account of a 38-year-old trader who grew extremely fearful a week after the drive was launched. “He felt that his cash transactions were being monitored and believed that the government was trying to ‘snoop’ on his ca sh transactions,” the article said.

“He also felt that he was being framed for being a part of a betting syndicate and believed that the law enforcement would call him and look into his accounts.”

Mahesh R. Gowda, a consultant psychiatrist with Spandana Nursing Home in Bengaluru who co-authored the report, said he had decided to take up the project because of the spike in cases of mental illnesses post demonetisation.

“We wanted to assess the psychological impact of demonetisation—which we partly witnessed through many case studies,” Gowda said.

“While the exercise was aimed at targeting those who had amassed black money, we saw patients from middle or lower-middle classes who did not have any unaccounted-for money but still experienced various degrees of mental stress or crisis.”

Gowda said structured data would be required to establish demonetisation as a specific stressor, but emphasised the need for policy makers to look into the psychological consequences of such a major upheaval in the economic and social order.

“Most experts at the recently concluded World Congress of Social Psychiatry, too, were of the same view,” he said.

Arun Enara, another psychiatrist who examined the cases, said the study pointed to the
importance of resilience in psychiatry.

“Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversities and constitutes a major component of mental well-being. People who are low on resilience tend to be more affected by a stressor,” Enara said.

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