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Countries must focus on suicide prevention, mental health amid covid-19: WHO

Public health experts have said India is also witnessing cases of depression and suicides due to the covid-19 pandemic. Photo: iStockPremium
Public health experts have said India is also witnessing cases of depression and suicides due to the covid-19 pandemic. Photo: iStock

  • Social distancing, isolation and coping with perpetually evolving and changing information about the virus has both triggered and aggravated existing and pre-existing mental health conditions which need urgent attention, WHO said

New Delhi: With covid-19 cases spiking and affecting people in multiple ways, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday called upon countries in South East Asia to pay greater attention to mental health and suicide prevention.

“Hitting lives and livelihoods, the pandemic is causing fear, anxiety, depression and stress among people. Social distancing, isolation and coping with perpetually evolving and changing information about the virus has both triggered and aggravated existing and pre-existing mental health conditions which need urgent attention," said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region.

Public health experts have said India is also witnessing cases of depression and suicides due to the covid-19 pandemic. A group, comprising public interest technologist Thejesh GN, activist Kanika Sharma and assistant professor of legal practice at Jindal Global School of Law Aman, recently claimed that 338 deaths between March 19 and May 2 were related to lockdown.

According to the data, 80 people killed themselves due to loneliness and fear of being tested positive for the virus. Besides, there were deaths of returning migrants in accidents.

According to the findings of a government study that surveyed over 500 people, covid-19 pandemic had pushed many into "feeling depressed". The survey was conducted by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Project Community Medicine, Maulana Azad Institute of Dental Sciences, Safdarjung hospital and Ministry of AYUSH.

Stigma related to covid-19 infection may also lead to feeling of isolation and depression, Khetrapal Singh said. Another precipitating factor impacting mental health amidst covid-19 could be domestic violence, which is reported to have increased during lockdowns imposed by almost all countries in the region.

Early identification of mental health conditions, recognition of suicidal behaviours and appropriate management through a multi-sectoral approach is important, even as we continue to focus on arresting further spread of the pandemic, she said.

Suicide claims almost 800,000 lives every year globally and is the leading cause of death among young people aged 15-29 years of age. Evidence shows that for each adult who dies of suicide there are more than 20 others attempting suicide.

The WHO South-East Asia Region accounts for 39% of global suicide mortality. Though preventable, suicide is a serious public health problem. Survivors of suicide attempts and their family often face stigma and discrimination in many forms. "The impact of suicide on families, friends and communities is devastating and far-reaching," she said.

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