Home Health & Medical Prioritising non-communicable diseases and mental health in India during COVID-19

Prioritising non-communicable diseases and mental health in India during COVID-19

Prioritising non-communicable diseases and mental health in India during COVID-19 | Photo Credits: Canva&nbsp

New Delhi: The medical establishment faces challenging dual priorities in the time of COVID-19. While working at a breakneck pace to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, medical professionals are also labouring to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on citizens. These professionals aim to support those already affected by other health conditions, including individuals living with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and those whose mental health is suffering as a result of the pandemic. Dr Bharat Pandya, Director, Rotary, shares insights on the condition of mental health and non-communicable diseases in the country, and how to tackle the problem at hand.

Already designated a top 10 global health threat by the World Health Organization in 2019, NCDs are responsible for nearly 5.8 million deaths annually in India from chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, cancer and more. This translates to the chilling statistic that one in four Indians is at risk of dying from an NCD before they reach the age of 70.

In terms of mental health, the pandemic is leaving multitudes feeling overwhelmed and experiencing confusion, fear, loss, loneliness, and uncertainty. Notably, a recent survey found that 61 per cent of Indians have reported an increased toll on their mental health as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

As this public health crisis has brought about a colossal shift in India’s everyday focus and understanding of health– all within the first four months of the outbreak–we need to broadly explore how to mitigate the country’s health risks not only now, but in the future. 

It is a vicious circle in which people battling the emotional toll created by the pandemic are susceptible to depression and addictive behaviours, and those with underlying substance abuse disorders are at even greater risk of magnified behaviours4. This, in turn, makes these individuals all the more vulnerable to contracting NCDs. 

And those who are already battling NCDs are less likely to be able to cope with mental health impacts that result from raised levels of stress, fear, and anxiety brought on by the global health crisis. 

Ultimately, those living with NCD and mental health comorbidities are at a greater risk for more severe outcomes during COVID-19 as evidenced by reporting from the state of Gujarat, where 71 per cent of those who died after contracting COVID-19 between March 23 and April 25 suffered from some form of the concurrent condition. Hence, in order to develop an effective, streamlined response to address COVID-19, there needs to be a concerted focus on the prevention and control of NCDs and mental health conditions.

What measures can be taken to address NCDs and mental health

It is critical for the government, the medical establishment and civil society to work together to develop multi-pronged strategies to drive awareness and prevention of NCDs and mental health issues as a subset of the battle against the novel coronavirus. 

As the first steps in this direction, there needs to be:

  • A shift to remote care via telemedicine options to ensure timely and hassle-free access to healthcare services. 
  • Adequately trained healthcare staff, especially those posted at quarantine sites; these providers must be able to provide basic emotional and practical support to affected people, including individuals with intellectual, cognitive or other differences.
  • And, most importantly, there needs to be a shift in attitudes surrounding mental health, particularly as India’s mental healthcare capabilities are still emerging. Namely, the stigma associated with mental health conditions needs to be replaced with empathy and support, underscoring the importance of mental health in the greater scope of overall health.

The road ahead

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live and work. It has also altered the way we respond to situations, and more importantly, it has brought forth the indomitable nature of the human spirit that prevails in even the most difficult conditions. 

COVID-19 has also highlighted the need to address NCDs and mental health conditions and the way in which we perceive both. And so, in the post-pandemic world, we will not just have to change the way we work, but also the very manner in which we interact with others as we step out of our homes to socialise with the outside world. Empathy, acceptance and care—will sum up the golden rule in the new world.

Disclaimer: Tips and suggestions mentioned in the article are for general information purposes only and should not be construed as professional medical advice. Always consult your doctor or a professional healthcare provider if you have any specific questions about any medical matter.

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