Suicide case highlights importance of counselling for COVID-19 patients

The case of a 50-year-old hospitalised patient jumping to death from the sixth floor of the Emergency and Trauma Centre on Victoria Hospital campus on Monday has brought into focus the importance of mental health counselling for COVID-19 patients to reassure them that the disease does not mean that they are being stigmatised.

Mental health experts said the pandemic is creating conditions for anxiety and panic, and people with pre-existing mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders, depression, OCD, and paranoia in particular can be severely impacted.

Doctors said mental health and suicide due to COVID has now become a second pandemic.

“If we look at media reports, there has been a 50% increase in suicides in the last two months in comparison to those reported during the same period last year. This is the indirect reflection of the impact of COVID on suicide rates,” said Prabha S. Chandra, Professor of Psychiatry at NIMHANS.

Stating that the reason for ending life is not just depression or anxiety, Dr. Chandra said there could be multiple reasons such as stigma, job loss, and other social issues.

“For most people, diagnosis of COVID and social isolation itself can be quite distressing. In fact, social isolation is worse than the infection and care should be taken to ensure all COVID positive patients do not indulge in self-harm. Counselling should be done in a holistic manner covering the social aspects too,” she said.

“COVID wards should have a ligature audit and protection from avenues by which suicides may happen. Open stairwells, approach to terrace and ligature points in the rooms should be avoided,” she said.

Karnataka’s Health Department started mental health counselling for all those under isolation even before the first positive case was reported. Mental health professionals from the district mental health team are following up through telephonic counselling apart from regular follow up by surveillance teams and 51,266 sessions have been held so far, said Jawaid Akhtar, Additional chief Secretary (Health and Family Welfare).

“While quarantine has proved to be effective in controlling epidemics, it is important that the process is sensitive enough to ensure that such people do not suffer mental agony. Due to misconceptions going around about the disease, some people think that they are going to die. Such thoughts may affect their recovery,” the official said.

Anish V. Cherian, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatric Social Work at NIMHANS, who is working on a paper on COVID suicides, said around 12 cases of completed suicides have been reported so far in India with reasons including worry about being infected, being tested positive, social isolation, fear of losing their job, current unavailability of alcohol and not able to reach home due to the lockdown.

So, who are at risk? While it is natural for anyone to feel distraught and have forebodings during times like these - especially with the uncertainty and ambiguity that the situation presents itself with – it is vital that preventive actions are taken to ensure the safety of the individuals, he said.

Both the doctors said a person can keep himself/herself busy even when in isolation, discover forgotten interests or simply read a book and keep in touch with family and friends online.

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Printable version | Oct 19, 2021 9:14:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/suicide-case-highlights-importance-of-counselling-for-covid-19-patients/article31448550.ece

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