Is Psychological stress the next pandemic in India?

COVID-19 pandemic has caused desolation globally. On 24March 2020, the Government of India ordered a nationwide lockdown by putting 1.3 billion people in their homes as a precautionary measure to contain the proliferation of coronavirus pandemic. We all are experiencing an unfamiliar situation and have no clue how to overcome it.

However, this nationwide lockdown has given an upsurge to many mental health issues. India has witnessed a 20 per cent rise in mental illness, affecting at least one in five Indians. Numerous cases have been reported, where people have committed suicide in lockdown due to the trepidation of Coronavirus, which is a direct repercussion of psychological pressure. An incident took place in Noida where a woman committed suicide because of the current lockdown situation. Anxiety, depression, sudden increase of appetite, chronic stress, and other negative psychological effects have become quite common amid the lockdown. People who are afflicting from preexisting psychological issues are not being able to derive proper treatment resulting in gross violation of the Right to health which is an intrinsic part of the Right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

We are going through a tough time. Life in quarantine has evoked a range of emotions, almost like grieving, including anger and denial. Ongoing stress may have a tremendous impact on our immunity system during the time of crisis as well. Currently, there are approximately 1 lakh cases of COVID – 19 in India. This increasing number of cases will easily cause depression to kick in, especially among those families who have close relatives and are infected. India is home to the highest suicide rate in South-East Asia. These increasing numbers of cases exist regardless of the fact that the Mental Healthcare Act constructively decriminalizes suicide by reading down Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. People who are troubling with mental illness experience violation of their human rights, despite having various legal measures such as the Mental Health Act 1987, Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, etc. The extended lockdown will have a devastating impact on family dynamics in the upcoming months. But other factors come into play as well like fake news and media, which induces stress and results in mental confusion and anxiety which offers danger to the public. During this lockdown, children are facing emotional stress. Lack of outdoor play, as well as social isolation, can slide into negative feelings and might increase the number of mental health conditions in children as well.

With the pandemic spreading like wildfire, the increasing attempt by the government to tackle the issues related to mental health seems to be ineffectual. According to India’s National Mental Health survey 2015-16, 10.6 per cent of India’s 1.3 billion people suffer from mental health disorders. Back in 2017, Parliament approved the Mental Healthcare Act which guarantees mental healthcare amenities to all citizens who are suffering from the mental malady. This Act focuses on the legal rights of persons with mental illnesses inclusive of instability and lunacy laws that are obtainable as a part of Human Rights Law, but it seems that the government may be contravening its own law by not securing its citizens amid the lockdown.

Part IV of the Indian Constitution, particularly Article 38, 39 (e), 41, 42, 47 and 48A, directs the state to preserve and maintain the health of its citizens. Over the years the judicial authorities of India found that right to life under Article 21 is incomplete without the right to live with human dignity which includes various other rights like right to health and right to livelihood etc. The right to life is a medium to lead a life in a meaningful and dignified way.

The Supreme Court in Vincent Panikurlangara vs. Union of India accentuated that a healthy body is the very foundation of human activities. Right to life guaranteed under Article 21 is the most fundamental of all human rights and any decision which may affect the life of an individual must call for the most anxious scrutiny. It has become very arduous for the citizens of India to go to hospitals without any access to public transport. Similarly, in the case of Dr. Upendra Baxi vs. State of Uttar Pradesh, the Apex Court stated that psychiatric treatment must be provided to the mentally ill inmates, for which the record of the time and place of the treatment should be maintained. Doctors are witnessing the continuous decline of patients in hospitals.

In January 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID – 19 pandemic as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel disquiet. People start getting stultified and exasperated due to captivity. This is the exact thing from which the Citizens of India are going through right now; it is more like a psychological analysis performed by the government putting 1.3 billion people in a lockdown. In the second half of 2020, it might result in a high rate of stress-related absenteeism. A sense of confinement has given rise to mental problems.

The government must take some measures so that persons can lead their lives free from disability. This can happen only when there is a countrywide effort to enlighten society about mental problems. The government must put mental illness under the sphere of life insurance. This will help the citizens to see mental ailment in the exact same way in which they used to see physical disorder. Legal aid clinics must be setup nationwide to deal with the problems of mentally ill persons. The right to treatment and to get proper health supervision originating from Article 21 of the constitution of India is equivalently applicable to all mentally ill persons. Mentally ill persons deprived of treatment due to confinement shall be clinched to get treatment amenities in the psychiatric nursing home.

On the concluding part, all I can say is mental torment is a naked violation of human dignity and destructive of human rights. The government’s failure to take reasonable measures pertained to the mental health of any person is an act of defiance towards the right to life. People who are suffering from mental illness do not get proper attention from the authorities and are viewed only from the prism of paternalistic “social welfare”.The purpose of putting a lockdown is to safeguard the citizens from the pandemic, but for some, it made life so difficult that surviving from virus seems pointless. If it continues to go like this, then it might lead to more death than the pandemic.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shardool Singh

IMG-20200523-WA0007

Shardool Singh is a second-year student pursuing B.A.LLB(Hons) from Faculty of Law, University of Allahabad. His area of interest includes Indian Constitutional Law and Human Rights Law.

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