About three or four decades ago, there were very few psychiatrists in Manipur as many of the doctors while going for higher degrees mostly opt for either Medicine, Gynaecology & Obstetrics or Surgery etc. It is just not because these medical disciplines are lucrative, but they were the most sought-after specialists those days. Then came the issue of drug abuse among the youth and large scale addiction in the 80s, besides the overall scenario of youth discontent and frustration over several factors including that of high unemployment vis-à-vis high literacy. Then, the absence of adequate Psychiatrists or Clinical Psychologists began to be felt in the state. And doctors slowly began to opt for Psychiatry in MD and still we are short of doctors in this state to match the ever-rising cases of mental health problems.
A few years ago, RIMS opened a separate department for Clinical Psychology. Earlier, it was attached to the Psychiatry Department. According to experts, Manipur is among the states with the highest number of mental health problems caused by socio-economic issues. As the state has been grappling with the problem of high substance abuse, 23 per cent of total population have mental disorder due to drug addiction. Another expert said, around 3 lakh and 2 lakh population of Manipur have suffered from depression and anxiety respectively in the year 2015. That is why, the Indian Psychiatric Society Manipur Branch had flagged the issue this year with a call for establishing a State Mental Hospital. Besides the hospital, Branch President Dr Manikanta Singh has also called for psychiatric wards in every private hospital with a capacity of 50 beds, and that all Health and Wellness Centres besides primary and district hospitals should also provide treatment for mental health problems.
Now even more alarming is the impact of the pandemic on mental health of the general population. Experts are expecting a five-fold increase in mental health cases in the coming days. Life has suddenly become very difficult with the lockdown and Covid-19 restrictions, as most people were confined at their homes. It is not the fear of contracting the Covid-19 virus alone, but the worry and stress associated with it and the monotony of life in lockdown as well which was affecting us every day. The young, middle-aged and the elderly have their own set of worries and frustrations. However, the one common denominator is that social life has changed drastically at the individual level as well as in the family and community level, either for a better or bleaker future. The favourite past-times and work has been thrown out of gear. It is the youth who is suffering most whose life has been interrupted with unprecedented restrictions.
The boredom associated with the monotony of the lockdown and inactivity has dulled the innovative nature of the youth, and life for them has been reduced to a window of the mobile phone and internet with its games and movies. Life in Covid-19 times is a frustrating experience for the youth and the students, also due to lack of peer interaction and inaction. Faced with new realities of working from home, temporary unemployment, online education or home-schooling of children, and lack of physical contact with other family members, friends and colleagues, mental health of individuals is taking a toll. Life for the elderly and the retired has been meeting friends and making small talk about life and its worries and reminiscing about the good old days which has been disrupted with the current norm of social and physical distancing besides the absence of community interaction. The very essence of community life and participation in functions, religious or otherwise, has been completely done away with and it is more devastating than the impact of urbanisation in community life.