Mental Health in India and Covid-19

Co-Written by Tehzeeb Anis & Mohammad Akram


Mental health is one of the most important aspect in the life of an individual. It includes cognitive, behavioural and emotional well-being. Mental health is all about how an individual think, feel and behave. The World Health Organization (WHO) had also focus on the importance of mental health and given a comprehensive definition. According to WHO “Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his her community.”  In India the government started the National Health policy for the well- being of the people but mental health was not added in that policy. At a later stage during the 1980s the government initiated the National Mental Health Programme with the objective to ensure availability and accessibility of minimum mental health care for all in the foreseen future, especially to the most vulnerable and under priviledged section of the population and to encourage application of mental health knowledge in general health care and in social development. In today’s era mental health problems have become a global issue. A larger population of people are suffering from mental health disorders, no matter their age, sex or ethinicty. According to The Global Burden of Diseases study 1990-2017[1] in India around 197.3 million people have mental disorder which comprises 14.3% of the total population of the country out of which 44.9 million people had anxiety disorders in India. Among the major mental disorders that exhibit predominantly during childhood, the crude prevalence for both depressive disorders and anxiety disorders was 3.3% whereas bipolar disorders had prevalence of 0.6% and schizophrenia 0.3%. The study also revealed that prevalence of depressive disorders was positively associated with the suicide death rate.

Today the situation have changed, India and the world are facing a major health crisis following the outbreak of novel coronavirus. Increasing number of cases, deaths, social alienation, fear, trauma and social stigma of the covid- 19 have pushed the world towards a higher risk of mental health problems. To prevent the spread of cases the government of India imposed several lockdowns resulting in forced isolation, stress and mass unemployment. Prior the lockdowns a larger section of the population experienced economic hardship, domestic violence and social stigma. According to a report[2] the number of mental illness cases had increased by 20% since the lockdowns and that at least one in five Indians were effected.

The National Mental Health Survey 2015-16[3] conducted a survey which was focused on the prevalence and pattern of mental disorders in India and found that depression was very common among the population of India. Almost one in 20 people suffer from depression. Earlier the prevalence of depression was 2.7% but now it has been increased to 5.2 %. The study also revealed that depression was reported to be higher in the age group of 40-49 years and higher among females and those residing in the urban areas. Depression among this age group is very much increased  during this pandemic because this age group is the major contributor in the productive population and mass unemployment during the covid crisis is affecting work productivity, earning potential and quality of life which is leading towards suicidal risks. Risk of suicide related with covid 19 have very much increased. According to a recent survey by independent researchers[4] 343 people died by suicide since March this year out of which 125 lost their life due to the fear of covid-19 infection, loneliness, a lack of freedom of movement and the inability  to go home. The study also reveals that financial distress and alcohol withdrawal as suicidal factors.

Gender is an important factor in mental health. There are certain disorders which are mostly prevalent in females while some are associated with males. National Mental Health survey also reveals that overall prevalence of mental morbidity was higher among males (13.9%) than among females (7.5%). Specific mental disorders like mood disorders (depression, neurotic disorders, phobic anxiety disorders, agarophobia, generalized anxiety disorders and obsessive compulsive disorders) were higher in females. Children have also not left behind in mental health issues. Nearly 9.8 million of young Indian children between 13-17 years suffers from mental disorders. The prevalence of mental disorders was twice (13.5%) as much in urban areas as compared to rural areas (6.9%). But the situation is worst during this pandemic. Children being the most vulnerable group are facing immense anxiety and emotional stress during this pandemic. The fear of losing family members, fear of getting infected and isolated by the peer groups and family violence are some of the major emotional stress children are going with. If children are not deal with proper care then this pandemic might left a long time effect on the mind of the children. Fear and anxiety about the covid 19 have created stress among every age group not only in India but around the globe. Fear of infection, concern about the health of the family members, loss of jobs and financial crisis and social stigma have created sleepless nights for the people which is worsening the mental health condition of the people. To overcome the situation and maintain a healthy mental life during this pandemic people should be advice to seek proper knowledge and facts about the diseases and rumors about it should be stopped. People having suicidal thoughts and behaviours should be given proper support from family, friends and community. Virtual counselling can also help with suicidal thought and behaviour during this covid 19 crisis.


* Tehzeeb Anis- is a Ph.D. Research Scholar at the Department of Sociology, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh.  Email:[email protected].

** Prof. Mohammad Akram- is Professor of sociology at Department of sociology, Aligarh   Muslim University, Aligarh, India. He has five published books and several research papers to his credit. He has worked on areas of sociology of health, migration, work, education and social policies. He is engaged in the profession of teaching, research and supervision for more than twenty years. He is an elected member of the managing committee of Indian Sociological Society (ISS).   Email: [email protected],



[3] National Mental Health Survey 2015-16




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