Mental distress cases on the rise owing to the pandemic

mental health
  • Read Time 6 min.

A 21-year-old girl from Dhangadi:

I am from a lower-middle-class family. While I was growing up, my family was going through financial issues. I could not afford a proper lunch at school, nor did I have as many dresses as my friends. This made my self-esteem very low. My father had returned from his foreign employment after he got into an accident and has not been able to work since. Due to my family’s financial problems, my brother has already left for foreign employment in Saudi Arabia. 

It was only my mother with an income source in my family. We are still fighting poverty, and fulfilling all our desires is our daily struggle. Sometimes I have suicidal thoughts; I just want to die. But again, I think about people who have it worse than us, and I feel thankful for what I currently have. Still, I question myself, is this the life we deserve? Recently my mother tested positive for covid-19. She was hardly breathing, but we could not take her to a good hospital. Though she is in isolation and getting better, I was very anxious and depressed. I am still very depressed. Why do we have to suffer this much?

A 26-year-old boy from Kathmandu:

I have been battling depression and anxiety for more than a year. I have not been able to focus on my studies or career, and I was not getting any motivation. Everyone says self-care is essential, but I cannot take care of anything amidst this corona crisis. I used to work for an IT company. I was slowly starting to focus on my career. But due to the pandemic, the company had to shut down. We lost many projects. 

Also, there are still things from my past which constantly haunt me. I was 16 years old when I started taking drugs. Even though I look okay on the outside, there is deep-rooted depression inside me. Since I can’t share my issues with anyone, I feel exhausted, depressed, and suicidal.

A 23-year-old boy from Dhangadi:

“I am passionate about writing, but due to parental pressure, I am studying mechanical engineering. I used to get bullied in school, and I used to cry a lot. I get recurring dreams of being bullied by my friends, and I feel exhausted. I have big dreams but not being able to achieve them makes me feel worse. My anxiety has further increased due to this pandemic. I am constantly worried about my future and my career.”

A 40-year-old entrepreneur from Dhading

I returned from Qatar in 2019 after almost 20 years of working there. I had acquired some training in agriculture and animal husbandry during my life abroad, so I thought of starting a similar business here in Nepal. I leased some land in Dhading. Since I needed more funds, I took a loan from a co-operative in my village with my house as collateral. 

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good time. The first wave of Covid pandemic hit, and the country went into lockdown. Everything came to a standstill. Before the second wave, I tried to get back up, but I now struggle with paying the loan installments. I hardly sleep at night, and I am anxious most of the time. One of my friends has suggested that I should seek counseling, but I am not sure that it will help me.  

These testimonials reflect the dire situation of people suffering silently from various mental health issues without any professional help.  

The second wave of coronavirus has hit the world very hard. People from all over the world are dying from the lack of adequate treatment and oxygen. The pandemic’s terror has also made many people anxious, depressed, and insecure about everything. 

Dr Suman Prasad Adhikari, a psychiatrist and a consultant at ManoShastra and Venus Hospital, informed that people with psychological distress usually have the symptoms like fear, anxiety, loss of appetite, emotional outbursts, paranoia, irritation, and the tendency of substance abuse, along with headache, body aches, shortness in breath and chest discomfort, 

All of us are scared of the horror and distress this pandemic has brought along. But for most people, it is much more than just distress. “People are suffering from various mental disorders because of this lockdown and pandemic,” says Bharati Adhikari, a counseling professor at Tri Chandra College. Adhikari believes that people are not just worried about them being infected by the virus; they are also afraid of the economic crisis they might have to face. “Since the pandemic has brought an economic crisis in many households, people are now concerned about their survival ”, adds Adhikari. 

All of us are scared of the horror and distress this pandemic has brought along. But for most people, it is much more than just distress.

“Mental health issues have sharply risen after the pandemic started. People are scared, frustrated, and worried, which is pushing them towards anxiety and depression,” says Sita Lama, a professional psychotherapist. “Anxiety is your body’s way of telling you something is not right. You need to accept that and try to counsel yourself that whatever is happening is okay and things will just be fine,” she said during the joint online counseling organized by Paaila and Man Kaa Kura. She also added that while she cannot provide the exact data, the number of people involved in self-harm and suicide attemps has increased massively during this pandemic. 

Studies have shown that suicide cases have been on the rise since the first wave of the pandemic, and the most affected are the youths and teenagers. Lama is trying to help some youths with her counseling and psychotherapy sessions. 

What factors cause mental distress? 

There are many reasons for a person to undergo mental distress in their lives. Still, this pandemic and the lockdown brings a particular set of issues like financial crisis, sexual abuse, domestic violence, and trauma, leading to the increasing number of mental health issues and suicide rates. 

There are many other reasons why people do suffer from mental issues. “Since the isolation and lockdown do not allow people to go out and interact with friends and family, the mind of an individual has come to become a house of negative thoughts, leading many people, especially teenagers, to choose self-harm as a solution,” says Lama.  

Studies have shown that suicide cases have been on the rise since the first wave of the pandemic, and the most affected are the youths and

Pitambar Koirala, Head of the Program Department at Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation (TPO) Nepal, also mentioned that many people suffer from mental distress and trauma due to the increasing domestic violence during this lockdown. “TPO Nepal has counseled many victims of domestic violence that have gone through severe trauma, and this has come to become one of the reasons for the increasing mental health crisis in Nepal.” he further informed. 

The stages of mental health issues vary from person to person, from simple to extreme. For some, it can be as subtle as losing interest in daily activities, while some suffer from despair and helplessness, leading to suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and self-harm.

The number of suicides has risen rapidly in the past few years. According to the numbers published by Nepal Police, five years ago, there were 4,680 cases related to suicide, which has increased to 6,241 this year. While the official number is enormous, many cases still go unreported, which means the actual number can be much higher. The number of cases went from serious to gravely dangerous during the Covid -19 pandemic. A total of 1,343 people committed suicide during the first four months of the lockdown, where two-thirds of them were female.

The data above clearly shows the state of increasing mental health issues in Nepal; however, significantly fewer steps have been taken to address the problem. Hospitals in rural areas lack special services related to mental health, while the available services like counseling and psychiatric services are overpriced. 

“We suffer in silence; we need someone to listen to us without judgment. Most of us fear that people will end up judging us, so we can not open up about our mental health condition,” says a 30-year-old female from western Nepal, “Although many organizations are working for the cause, we being in a middle-class family can’t afford those expensive therapy sessions. People from Kathmandu somehow manage to get therapy, but things are worse outside of the valley”, she elaborates. 

Getting help

This pandemic and lockdown have made it immensely challenging for those suffering from mental health issues to receive therapy and counseling. But that does not mean that there are no solutions to keep oneself mentally healthy. 

“Everyone needs an outlet where they can talk about their feelings and fears, and even though it is not possible to get in touch physically, it is necessary to utilise every platform available right now, to feel connected and mentally healthy,” says Lama.

 “It is also essential to take good care of oneself by eating healthy, taking a break from things that are stressful and get an adequate amount of sleep,” said Dr Suman Adhikari. 

While these methods might be helpful in some cases, there might be some severe cases where a person might require professional help. It is essential to utilize the virtual platform so that anyone who needs professional counseling and therapy can receive them quickly while also being safe in the pandemic. 

Organizations like TPO Nepal, CMC Nepal and Koshish Nepal provide virtual counseling and therapy. One can easily connect to these organizations through the Toll-Free Number that the organizations offer, says Koirala. 

“Furthermore, many hospitals and organizations have started to provide suicide helpline to reduce the number of suicide during this lockdown,” Koirala said. 

Suicide helpline: 

  • 16600102005 – Transcultural Psychosocial Organization (TPO) – Nepal
  • 16600185080 – Center for Mental Health and Counseling – Nepal (CMC-Nepal) 
  • 16600133666 (Toll-Free) – Mental Health Helpline Nepal
  • 16600122223 (Toll-Free) – Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Service Center
  • 9813476123 – Patan Hospital, Department of Psychiatry, Suicide Helpline
  • 9849630430 – Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, Psychiatry Helpline
  • 16600185080 (Toll-Free) – Center for Mental Health and Counselling – Nepal (CMC-Nepal)
  • 16600122322 (Toll-Free)- Koshish Nepal
  • 9840021600 – Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, Suicide Hotline