- Women, children, jobless people, frontline health workers and caregivers are mostly affected
- Vulnerable people do not get support for inadequate access to information
- Concerted efforts of stakeholders needed amid the pandemic
The pandemic threatens to affect the mental health of the population, especially women, children, jobless people, frontline health workers and caregivers, but the need for psychological support has mostly been ignored, experts said in a webinar yesterday.
The discussion on psychosocial support during the Covid-19 outbreak emphasized the importance of concerted efforts to boost people's mental health amid the global crisis.
"The women and children are most vulnerable in any disaster. Different surveys revealed that the number of domestic violence has gone up amid the pandemic. The oppression for dowry, deaths from physical torture and sexual abuse are very common around this time," said Ismat Jahan, clinical psychologist and head of National Trauma Counseling Centre at the virtual event organised by Christian Aid and The Business Standard.
Many people have become jobless, especially in the private sector. Informal workers, including street vendors have fallen prey to economic crisis.
Caught in such a predicament, people, especially women and children, need mental counseling, Ismat said, citing measures taken by the women and children affairs ministry to provide mental health support.
"However, people are not aware of our services as the access to information is not sufficient."
Non-government organisations can help disseminate the information, Ismat added.
"We have to talk about wellness, not illness. We have to take care of our minds," said Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed, associate professor of child, adolescent and family psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health.
Parents are worried about their children's education as the institutions are closed. But their concerns leave huge impact on children.
"There is no alternative to practicing human virtues," Helal added.
Referring to practices in Thailand, he said the country had taken a project to engage families in different activities. The project is called "family vaccine" intended to care for the mental wellbeing of family members amid Covid-19 that, according to Helal, has become syndemic.
Syndemic, or synergistic epidemic, refers to the idea that the virus does not act in isolation, like a lone villain causing pneumonia and organ failure. Rather, it has accomplices, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease that compound the damage.
Mosammat Nazma Khatun, associate professor and chairman, the Department of Clinical Psychology, University of Dhaka, said most of the frontline health workers ignore their mental health issues.
"We, the clinical psychology department, in association with DGHS [Director General of Health Services] and ICDDR,B have provided counseling to around 2,000 frontline workers dealing with Covid-19 patients."
On mental health research and education, Nazma said, "We have to think about quality of education to prepare our clinical psychologists.
"Our students could not complete their courses in the university and they lag behind for around six months because of the pandemic. So, the country did not get services of a good number of clinical psychologists."
The university should run some programmes focusing students who are out of the traditional education system, Nazma added.
Referring to how mental health is taken care of in Canada, Sadia Sharmin Urmi, a member of Canadian Mental Health Association, said children in Canada were participating in various online activities such as mind games, while staying at home.
Indoor and outdoor game facilities are also available, she added.
On providing support to Rohingyas, Ruma Khondaker, a specialist on mental health and psychosocial support from Save the Children, Bangladesh, said "The scope to give mental support in humanitarian context is really limited as they are facing challenges to meet basic needs like food, shelter and medicine."