The mental health challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic are as diverse and complex as the physical challenges. For health workers, there is the pressure of performing their duty in the face of immense human suffering and in many cases, a lack of cooperation from the public and even their own neighbours.

For skilled and unskilled workers in the organized and unorganized sector, loss of livelihood is a daily source of anxiety and concern. Lockdowns during pandemics see an increase in domestic violence as well. 

Many children and women live in constant fear of being trapped in abusive households where they are at the receiving end of violence. The scale of the crisis means that even the people engaged to counsel others suffer from over-exposure to tragic and traumatizing experiences.

The COVID-19 pandemic therefore, in so many ways, has undoubtedly taken a toll on all of us psychologically. This makes it more important than ever to take care of our mental and emotional health. A proactive approach to self-care, that helps us heal through this phase of anxiety and fear is essential to successfully emerge on the other side.

This is a time of identifying and appreciating our own strengths and of those around us. Re-building connections with friends, family members and relatives; deep breathing or meditation when feeling distressed, reviving of interests and hobbies, spending quality time with your family are some of the many ways of seeking self-care.

A simple habit could be to maintain a ‘gratitude jar’.It involves writing one thing everyday that we are grateful for and putting it in the jar. If needed, we can also turn to the many helplines publicly available to seek help from professional counsellors, psychologists and The pandemic has also affected millions of children, especially the underprivileged children from socially and economically marginalized sections of society, deprived urban and rural areas as well as children with disabilities. 

It is also a source of distress to children who live in childcare institutions (CCIs). Among the issues they face are anxiety, eagerness to go home, waiting for the lockdown to end, sleep disorder and anger issues.

It is important to assure children that, we are in a position to protect them, while making them aware of the precautions such as social distancing as well as better hand hygiene that will keep them safe. 

With an overload of information from multiple sources, it is important to keep the message simple for them. Simple games and joint activities around the house play a big part in making children comfortable and enable them to voice their opinions. 

Where children are vulnerable to abuse, the 1098 Child Line should be contacted for support. Similarly, instances of domestic violence should be reported to the 1091 women helpline or the 100 police helpline.

Increased vigilance and support are necessary at the village level to prevent a rise in the incidence of child labour, child marriage and trafficking. 

As per directives from the Supreme Court on the protection of children in childcare institutions (CCIs) from COVID-19, it is important to ensure that children receive counselling services and are protected from violence and abuse. The directives also mention the release of all children from observation homes on bail unless there are clear reasons for the application of the proviso under Section 12 of the Juvenile Justice Act 2020.

UNICEF is supporting the state in organizing mental health and psycho-social support sessions for children residing in CCIs, volunteers of the state migrants’ help desk and health functionaries. We will continue to expand this support to more children, adolescents, families and functionaries both within and outside the government in partnership with the Central Institute of Psychiatry.

I would like to reiterate that the only way forward is through empathy for others as well as taking care of our own emotional well-being. In the absence of our regular social interactions and without required support, it is natural to feel isolated. 

This is where modern technology helps us, by enabling us to reach out to those we cannot meet. Those of us in positions of privilege must be grateful for what we have and help those who don’t. Let us do our part in keeping ourselves and those around us happy, especially the ones who need this support the most. 

( The writer is UNICEF Jharkhand Chief)

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