Attending the COVID-19 threat, the country has been under lockdown since March 24, 2020. As the virus sweeps across the world, fear, worry and chaos has been passing along with it. Not just the elderly ones and the people with underlying health conditions, but even young and healthy people are stricken by the grief introduced by the coronavirus pandemic. Mental health of people has been heavily affected due to the fear of catching coronavirus which is fueled further by joblessness, the comprehensible economic disaster and the fact that all of us are locked within our houses resulting in a monotonous lifestyle.
Considering the situation in our country only, as per the data compiled by the Nepal Police, suicide cases within the territory have increased by 20% as an aftermath of lockdown. As a matter of fact, people dying from the effects of lockdown and fear stemming from the virus are staggeringly more in number than the ones dying from the virus itself. Sadly, this number is very much likely to keep on increasing for a certain period even after the lockdown.
Article 35 of Constitution of Nepal, 2072 ensures right relating to health as a fundamental right. It reads that every citizen shall have the right to free basic health services from the state, and no one shall be deprived of emergency health services. Section 3(4) of the Public Health Service Act, 2075 has enlisted mental health service as a basic health service and has reiterated the provision in the constitution that every citizen shall have the right to such health service at free of cost. However, the government has not introduced any new policies or strategies regarding mental health, nor has it updated the decades old National Mental Health Policy, 2052 or implemented this policy properly.
At present when mental health experts have coronavirus and lockdown to blame for the anxiety, depression, fear, and other mental challenges seen in their patients, it is high time for the state to address the issue with urgency. As guaranteed by the constitutional and other legal provisions, the onus is on the government to address the issue and provide some recourse such as free mental health-related counseling or come up with new modalities and strategies for lockdown as immediate measures to ensure that public mental health doesn’t suffer more than it already has. As for the long-term ways to secure public mental health wellbeing, the government needs to introduce new mental health policies and strategies and commit to their implementation as per the commitment it made while signing the Alma Ata Declaration. While undertaking efforts to control COVID-19 infection, it is a must for the government to consider this issue and take initiatives therefrom.
While the World Health Organization (WHO) has already predicted an unprecedented surge in the number of mental health problems and thus the patients, the scenario of Nepal is not expected to be any different. Although the government has eased down on lockdown for past few weeks, it has constantly asked people to go out for extremely urgent tasks only. Since the issue of mental health has always been stigmatized in Nepal, the government must address the issue and change the modality of lockdown acknowledging entertainment to people as an urgency in order to not let the situation become even more dreadful in the future. Mental health problems will not just limit itself to a mere health problem; it will show its effects in the national economy as well. WHO states that the global economy loses about US$ 1 trillion per year in productivity due to depression and anxiety. Thus, the government must move forward with the best possible solution while taking the expert’s opinion into account.