Job losses, economic distress, social isolation and lockdown-induced stress have left increasing numbers of people struggling with the uncertainty of it all

A corporate employee in his 30s was in despair after being laid off from his high-profile job in the financial sector last month. Used to a certain lifestyle, he had gone overboard with his spending. His savings had dwindled and hefty monthly instalments loomed.

In another case, a tech sector employee, also in his mid-30s, found himself in the midst of a panic attack. He had locked himself in a room, afraid that he’d contacted Covid-19 as he was feeling breathless and didn’t want to want to spread the disease to others in the family. Both reached out for help and found it. The first contacted a clinical psychologist. The second called up the Optum helpline.

A pandemic with no end in sight, job losses, economic distress, social isolation and lockdown-induced stress have left increasing numbers of people — including corporate executives — struggling with the uncertainty of it all. Psychologists say the number of calls from people in distress has been alarmingly high. Some of the terminology isn’t helpful either, as some have pointed out. For instance, social distancing shouldn’t imply social isolation.

“Life has been thrown off balance. For people who already had depression and anxiety, things have worsened… Those who have never faced these issues earlier are finding it difficult to cope,” said clinical psychologist Seema Hingorani, who has seen a 30-40% increase in such cases.

“We have an average of four risk cases every day,” said Amber Alam, director for employee assistance programmes (EAP) and wellness services (Asia Pacific) at Optum, a top provider of such services to corporates. There has been a surge in cases of people feeling suicidal since Covid-19 hit, he said. The main triggers are domestic violence, relationship issues, professional insecurity, fear and anxiety, health anxiety and financial losses.

An early May report compiled by a group of researchers put suicide as the leading cause for over 300 non-coronavirus deaths reported in India due to distress triggered by the nationwide lockdown.

A Kerala student reportedly killed herself earlier this week as she could not attend online classes as she did not have access to a television or a smartphone. Health workers, police personnel and others on the frontline are also highly vulnerable, experts pointed out, citing a recent instance in New York of an emergency doctor taking her own life.

Psychologists say that with India in the middle of a mental health crisis, big doses of hope, positivity and motivation need to be provided at all levels right from the social narrative and social media to helplines, awareness building and creating support system. “Otherwise we will move from one epidemic to another,” Parekh said.

Archana Bisht, founder, said her company is focusing more on building resilience and helping people to come to terms with adversity. “Sometimes, clients just want to be heard, so we provide a safe space where they can share their fears. We also help them build healthy coping styles,” she said.

If you or someone you know is in distress, there’s a list of helpline numbers. More resources can be found online. Most companies also provide such support to employees.

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