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Will the second surge of COVID increase suicide cases?

“There are many who are suffering from underlying mental health illnesses such as anxiety and depression,” shares Kunwar.

2021 May 09, 14:40, Kathmandu
Mental health amid coronavirus pandemic. Illustration: Critical Path Learning Center

When news of the coronavirus first broke out people in Nepal did not seem to take it seriously. But the number of infections kept rising globally and reports of people dying of the infection started surfacing. Initially, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on January 30, 2020. It was only on March 11, 2020, did WHO declare the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.

Governments across the world started imposing lockdowns and travel restrictions to curb the spread of the virus. Similarly, as Nepal too started reporting cases of the infection, the government responded by imposing the first lockdown on March 24, 2020.

The restrictions that lasted for several months caused a lot of hardships to the people in general. Businesses closed down and thousands lost their jobs. Nearly all activities were curtailed with schools too stopping physical classes.

People were confined within their homes and the situation was grim. It was not only the fear of contracting the virus but also the anxiety of where the next meal was going to come from that plagued many.

Those were times of stress and anxiety. And reports were also out that Nepal was witnessing an increase in the number of people committing suicide due to the restrictions, financial breakdown and lack of physical contact with family and friends. Now, with the government imposing a prohibitory order for the second time the question is whether the situation will be as grim as the previous lockdown. And how do we deal with all this strain?

“The problem in Nepal is that when it comes to issues related with mental health people really do not want to talk anything about it,” says Karuna Kunwar, senior psychologist at CMC Nepal. The fact that there is a lot of social stigma attached to the word ‘metal problem’ adds further to the problem.

On World Suicide Prevention Day, which falls on September 10, the UNICEF last year called for the nation to contribute to the prevention of suicides through therapy, treatment, and rehabilitation services for children and young people to make sure mental health becomes part of mainstream health care services in Nepal.

The organisation had said, “For many families in Nepal, coping with COVID-19 goes beyond keeping a social distance, wearing masks and washing hands to avoid infection. It means confronting the growing uncertainties and livelihood worries that the pandemic brings which has many struggling to maintain hope in the future.”

“There are many who are suffering from underlying mental health illnesses such as anxiety and depression,” shares Kunwar. However, either the concerned people do not have any understanding of what they are suffering from or even if they do know they do not want to visit a counsellor due to the stigma attached to it like I said earlier, she reasons.

She added, “Last year we witnessed a lot of suicide cases. It is not that there were no suicides before COVID but the number did grow.” Kunwar attributed this rise in number to the fact that many people lost their loved ones and couldn’t deal with the situation and also because people felt hopeless as they had no source of income.

Mental health illness can afflict anyone at any age. “And the only way to deal with it is to talk about it freely,” she states. Kunwar informs that when we talk to a person who is suffering from depression or anxiety they will give out signs like expressing their frustration. “Or most often you will see them staying alone not wanting to interact with others,” she adds. “You have to watch or listen to them carefully because at times they may not express their feelings openly or directly.”

With schools closed and with very limited activities children are the ones we must be extra wary of, says Kunwar. “Parents do not give much attention to their children’s behaviour assuming it to be childhood shenanigans but when they start complaining of stomach aches or show signs of lethargy too often then we need to be alert,” she shares. Also, some signs of a child suffering from depression or anxiety are when they get irritated too quickly without much provocation.

The one thing that is worrying Kunwar these days is that the number of infections and fatalities has been rising this time around unlike in the first wave. “The government has imposed a prohibitory order for 15 days but it could be extended like how it was done the last time,” she says. “Since people have not been able to fully come out of the adversity of the previous lockdown the situation could be worse this time if the order is extended.”

Kunwar adds that we all need to be conscious and look for signs of depression or anxiety that any near and dear one is showing. “And please reach out if you do feel someone needs your support.”

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