Amid the Coronavirus pandemic, one of the many problems which people are suddenly waking up to, apart from the deadly virus itself, is to deal with stress, anxiety and depression. Rising deaths linked to Coronavirus across the world and the problems associated with it — both social and economic upheaval, insecure future, job loss and pay cuts — have led to a heightened sense of fear among those with pre-existing mental problems and affecting even those who haven’t witnessed them before.

Talking to The Statesman, Dr Mohit Sharma, Senior Resident and Locum Consultant from Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), Delhi said, “It is a normal reaction by people in abnormal situation.”

Here are the excerpts from an interview with the doctor:

1) Has there been a sudden spurt in the number of cases of mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) etc among people?

Ans. The whole pandemic situation and the COVID-19 induced lockdown, this sudden crisis is surely an anxiety-provoking state. We are receiving several calls from general population where people say they are not getting proper sleep, are suffering from palpitations, restlessness etc. So, we are falling back on tele-psychiatry and counsel people as much on phone or such other apps. So, while taking care of their mental health we are suggesting people to stay at home to keep themselves safe from Coronavirus as well.

2) What are the ways you can suggest to tackle this mentally-stressful situation?

Ans. Not just Coronavirus, to top it all, joblessness, lack of social security, flooding of “infodemic” of misinformation as called by UN chief Antonio Guterres are its main causes.

Same, fear inciting information is being consumed from multiple sources round-the-clock. So, it is important that one should limit the source of his/her information and it should be validated source.

And if it still provokes anxiety, people should keep themselves busy by reviving their hobbies and interest activities. They should try to get some exercise and eat well, and sleeping on time to give rest to both mind and body will do a lot of good for them.

3)What are the measures taken by the Centre/ State governments to take care of the pre-existing mentally ill patients?

Ans. We are following the Mental Health Care Act 2017. There are no specific guidelines; we are following the hospital guidelines. For the homeless people or people who leave homes due to their mental condition or homeless people who are suffering from mental illness, we send mental health mobile units on police call and they are admitted to the hospital with proper checking and authorization. They are further given proper treatment and care by our doctors and nursing staff.

4) Are the patients brought at IHBAS tested for COVID-19 and how are the patients with mental illness, who are abandoned by their family, or homeless people who may not be able to follow the Coronavirus guidelines — like the required hygiene and cleanliness regime of washing hands for 20 seconds, not to touch face, eyes or nose…wearing a mask, maintaining social distance etc — dealt with?

Ans. Even if the people are suffering from mental health problems, Indian family system is still mostly intact and such that the family keeps and takes care of their loved ones and are not abandoned by them.

It’s the homeless on roads, with no food, they are more susceptible to the infection without any protection.

Initially in ICMR guidelines for COVID-19 testing, patient’s identity proof and a phone number were mandatory for tracing Coronavirus positive patients. But, homeless people with mental illness brought by the police generally don’t have any such documents. After a PIL was filed in Delhi High Court, it had given a order on August 7 to allow testing of such patients without the mandatory ID proof or phone number by using a dummy phone number and address of the labs or hospitals.