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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 38, New Delhi, September 5, 2020

Mental distress in a pandemic world - A view from an Indian village | Asish Kumar Pal and Atanu Sengupta

Friday 4 September 2020

by Dr. Asish Kumar Pal and Dr. Atanu Sengupta

Abstract:

The COVID-19 outbreak in India since late January 2020 has rapidly grown by leaps and bounds and aroused enormous attention globally. The government was forced to announce a lockdown situation across the country. In this period, the public at large have experienced boredom, loneliness, disappointment, irritability and anxiety due to their prolonged stay at home. All groups of people, both male and female, are affected by a deep depression in their mind. The lockdown-induced stay at home and work from home has changed the people both psychologically and socially throughout the country. The female members in the families have suffered from domestic violence. Our survey aims to investigate the psychological impact of COVID-19 on people of all age-groups in the remote rural areas of India. Our study focuses on how the people have spent their days of lockdown affected as they are by mental depression and physical distress in society.

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Introduction:

“Shorir! Shorir! Tomar mon nai Kusum?"
“Body! Body! You do not have your mind, Kusum?"
(‘Putul Nacher Itikotha’ - “Puppet’s Tale” - by Manik Bandyopadhyay)
(translation by the authors)

The lockdown applied to three main areas — physical movement out of home, social distancing when outside the home and restricted availability of most public services while sparing essential services. The lockdown has restricted the movement of people of each age-group to go outside. All economic activities have been at a standstill aall these these days. People are forced to maintain social distancing due to the pandemic restrictions. So there was a sudden and drastic change in the daily routine, with many millions stranded in boarding houses and rental apartments without work and far from home. However, it is the children, teenagers, middle-aged persons, older persons and women who have had to bear the heaviest impact of the lockdown. Staying at home and working from home have caused both physical and mental hazards to the people. People are upset and frustrated by staying at home day after day across the country during the pandemic crisis. The vulnerable persons of different age-groups are facing acute mental stress. This is especially so in a country like India where social mixing at neighbourhoods and workplaces are part and parcel of our daily lives. Coupled with this is the imminent danger of being infected by COVID. Social exclusion often makes one feel like a criminal if one is found to be COVID positive. The people who are directly exposed by staying at home due to the lockdown are anxious to remain fit and in a mentally sound condition in the face of vulnerability. Women and girls are also victims of violence in their families. They are exposed to domestic violence by males, and these are both physical and sexual. Our study aims to focus on the psychological and social impact on the people in the area of our study. This also suggests that violence is a way for the men to assert their masculinity

Overview of study:

A few studies have explored this aspect of the lockdown in the Indian context but most of the existing research fails to be inclusive in scope.

According to a very recent report of the WHO (2020), as the coronavirus pandemic rapidly sweeps across the world, it is inducing a considerable degree of fear, worry and concern in the population especially the elders, adults, children and women with their mental condition affected due to the prolonged lockdown.

As per a recent study by the American Psychological Association (April 16, 2020), relating to the psychological info COVID-19, the coronavirus pandemic is an epidemiological and psychological crisis. The enormity of living in isolation, changes in daily lives, job loss, financial hardship and grief over the death of loved ones has the potential to affect the mental health and well-being of many.

M Varshney et.al (May 29, 2020) expressed the opinion that the lives of people were drastically affected with the lockdown and fear related to the disease-potential effects in “Initial psychological impact of COVID-19 and its correlates in Indian community: An online (Feel-COVID) survey”.

Chakroborty et.al (2020), have opined that the COVID -19 pandemic threatened the existence of the respondents to a great extent and affected their mental status negatively in the article “Psychological impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the general population in West Bengal: A cross-sectional study”.

A Report of the National Commission for Women (May 17, 2020) has raised an urgent alert about the increasing number of domestic violence cases since the nationwide lockdown began.

Bhat et. al (April 25, 2020), have shown the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) epidemic is a public health emergency of international concern and poses a challenge to psychological resilience, economy and social life of the people in ‘A study on the impact of COVID-19 lockdown on psychological health, economy and social life of people in Kashmir’.

Methodology:

Gourhati village in Hooghly district in the State of West Bengal has a population of nearly 15000, (according to Gram Panchayat Anganwadi records) and near about 13,084 (census report 2011). Many of the village residents, both male and female, depend on the unorganised sector. The study is based on the response of 200 respondents including children (sample size 20), youngsters (sample 20), middle-aged (20), elderly (20) and female (20) in the particular rural area applying the stratified random sampling method [1]

The information is collected through a questionnaire which is followed by an interview procedure from the various age-groups of people in remote rural areas where all economic activities have come to a standstill during the lockdown period. The format of questions is subjective and objective regarding psychological factors which are responsible for causing mental depression during this pandemic. Some women have been victims of domestic violence during the time of their stay at home away from their busy work lives. Our survey was done at that time when the people including women were quietly living not only in mental stress but also with physical problems and entirely in economic hardship. This survey was continued from mid-May when a cyclonic storm (Amphan — a natural calamity) had passed over the Bengal (Surveyed) areas and lockdown had already completed three stages in the country.

Information Analysis:

In our survey recently expressed in table 1(a), nearly 65% of the interviewed children in the study area are worried about the future due to closure of schools for a long time across the country while just over 35% have reported to be not worried on this score.

Table 1(b) shows 60% of those surveyed have reported feelings of being scared whereas 40% have expressed they are not scared.

In table 1(c) 75% of respondents have conveyed their feelings of anxiety because of the subsequent lockdown. Their minds are affected due to staying at home for a prolonged period. Only 25% are not anxious of this.

 Table1 (a): Worried about future due to school closure among the children

Children  Worried about future  Not worried about future 
40 26 14

Table 1(b): Felling scared due to restrictions of lockdown among the respondent children

Children  Feeling scared Not feeling scared 
40 24 16

Table 1(c) Feelings of anxiety of those Surveyed for staying at home for a long period

Children  Feelings of anxiety  No feelings of anxiety 
40 30 10

Children have reported feeling anxiety, boredom and frustration at being unable to play outside with friends or fears of falling behind in their education.

Almost all the children (80%) felt depressed in the absence free or friendly environment. That may lead to mental disorders in this time of COVID -19. 75% children from rural families have responded as having a higher level of distress than normal. We also have got a response from many children that they are struggling with fear, anguish and are concerned about their family’s situation. Table 1(f) indicates the struggling factors they have responded to. 60% are in fear, 50% are struggling against anguish and 65% are concerned about the family’s situation in this hard time. Table 1(g) points out that 70% children are indeed worried about the current pandemic situation, especially of their falling ill due to the virus. This proves the consciousness about the COVID crisis among the children.

Table 1(d): Feelings of depression for not getting a free playing environment among the children

Children  Feelings of depression No feelings depression
40 32 08

Table 1 (e): Level of distress among the sampled children during this pandemic

Children   Higher level of distress than normal  Lower level of distress than normal 
40 30 10

We also have got response from many children that they are struggling with fear, anguish and are concerned about their family’s situation. Table 1(f) indicates the struggling factors among the Surveyed children. 60% is in fear, 50% is struggling against anguish and 65% is concerned about family’s situation in this hard time.

Table 1(f): Response about the struggling factors among the respondents

Struggling factors Response No response
Fear 24 16
Anguish 20 20
Concerned about family’s situation  26 14

Table 1(g) points out that 70% children are indeed worried about the current pandemic situation, especially of falling ill with the virus. This proves the consciousness about COVID crisis among the children.

Table 1(g): Worried about the current pandemic from the sample children

Sample children  Worried about Current pandemic  Not worried about Current pandemic 
40 28 12

Now turning to Youngsters, here Table 2(a) shows the young respondents who are worried about syllabus and examination. They are worried about the future due to incomplete syllabus and examination because of the closing of their institutions although 20% of them do not think of this matter.

Table 2(a): Worried about syllabus and examination among the young respondents

Respondents  Worried about syllabus and examination  Not Worried about syllabus and examination 
40 32 08

From table 2(b), (c), (d), (e) we see anxiety, depression, trauma and loneliness from the young respondents. From table 2(b) 60% respondents are anxious about the future while 40% are free of anxiety. It is seen that from table 2(d) 70% youngsters are affected by depression due to absence of free environment whereas 30% are not depressed. Table 2(d) shows the symptoms of trauma among 55% youngsters due to prolonged stay at home and table 2(e) expresses feelings of loneliness for not being able to go outside. These features indicate that mental disorder may be setting in among the youngsters during the lockdown period.

2(b): Feelings of anxiety about the future from the sampled youngsters

Respondents  Feelings anxiety  No feelings anxiety 
40 24 16

Table 2(C): Affected by depression - not getting a free environment - among the sample Youngsters

Youngsters  Affected by depression  Not Affected by depression 
40 28 12

Table 2(d): Symptoms of trauma is shown among the sample respondents due to prolonged stay at home

Youngsters  Symptoms of trauma  No symptoms of trauma 
40 22 18

Table 2(e): Feelings of loneliness due to not moving outside among the responded youngsters

Sample  Feel loneliness No feeling of loneliness 
40 26 14

In table 2(f) academic knowledge and skills of 55% youngsters are worsening due to this situation. We see 75% of them have been positively impacted by social media during the period of continuous stay at home in table 2(g). In fact the social media is now the only window to the vast outside world. Some however feel depressed about the looming figures of an expanding pandemic that come in social media. Can the media replace the warmth and closeness of friends, near and dear ones?

“Shudhu tomar bani noy go he bondhu he priyo
Majhe Majhe prane tomar porosh khanidiyo”

“Not only your speech, my friend, my dear one
Lend me your touch in the heart sometimes"
(Rabindranath Tagore - translation by the authors)

The data regarding physical health and fitness for staying well in table 2(h) shows only 45% are positively impacted by health and fitness but the majority (55%) are negatively impacted due to continuos stay at home.

Table 2(f): Academic knowledge and skill worsening among the youngsters

Young respondents  Worsening of knowledge and skills  No worsening of knowledge and skills 
40 22 18

Table 2(g): Social media impacted due to lockdown among respondents

Youngsters  Positive impact  Negative impact 
40 30 10

Table 2(h): Physical health and wellness among the youngsters for not getting a free environment

Respondents  Positively impacted  Negatively impacted 
40 18 22

Next we take into account middle-aged persons who are jobless and incomeless due to the lockdown across the country to combat the spread of coronavirus. In our study, it is seen in table 3(a) & 3(b) that 60% of middle-agers have lost their jobs and 85% of them are suffering from decline of income during this pandemic. So they are in an economic crisis due to the lockdown. Not only that. They are deeply worried about recovering their jobs.

Table 3(a): Response about Jobless situation from the middle-aged persons

Middle aged Jobless  Not jobless 
40 24 16

Table 3(b): Response about fall of income from the respondents

Respondents  Income falling  income not falling 
40 34 06

They are also suffering from boredom or irritation due to loneliness at the work place. In table 3(C) 60% feel bored or lonely due to staying away from the work and continuous stay at home.

Table 3(C): Feelings of boredom or loneliness from the engagement at workplace among the middle-agers

Middle agers Feeling bored Not feeling bored
40 24 16

Table 3(d) shows the anxiety among the middle-age group of people concerning their families. Because of being jobless and income-less they are unable to adequately maintain their families. Only 30% of them are not anxious about the family while the reverse is the case for the remaining 70%.

Table 3(d): Anxious about family maintenance among the sampled

Sample  Anxious  Not anxious 
40 28 12

Now regarding physical fitness and mental health, we find in (table 3(e) 65% have been inconvenienced of their health and fitness during the lockdown period and likewise, from the table 3(f), it is seen that their staying at home to combat the spread of infection of coronavirus that has impacted the mental health (60%) of the middle-aged group people. So this leads to both physical and mental disorder.

Table 3(e): Inconvenience of health and fitness to stay well during the pandemic

Middle aged  Inconvenience of health and fitness  No inconvenience of health and fitness 
40 26 14

Table 3(f): Impact on mental health among the sample middle-aged people for being restricted at home

Middle-aged persons  Impacted mental health  Not impacted mental health 
40 24 16

Our next consideration is about old aged persons who are worried of physical health. Table 4(a) indicates that 75% of the old-age people are anxious about their physical health due the crisis of doctors, shortage of medicine, absence of health staff and closure of transport.

Table 4(a): Worried about physical health among the elderly

Old aged  Worried about physical health  Not worried about physical health 
40 30 10

Tables 4(b) & 4(c) show 65% of such old-age people are anxious about the future of next-generation and 70% of them are stressed or angry for not being able to walk outside the house and meeting the other persons of their age. This could impact on mental health.

Table 4(b): Feelings of anxiety among the old aged persons about the future of the next generation

Respondents  Anxiety  No anxiety 
40 26 14

Table 4 (C): Feelings stress or anger from the responded old-aged persons due to not moving outside

Sample old people  Feelings stressed or angry  Not feeling stressed or angry 
40 28 12

From table 4(d) the data informs us 55% 0ld-agers are suffering from mental effects due to continuously stay at home because of the prolonged lockdown.

Table 4(d): Mental disorder among the elderly due to continued confinement at home

Respondent  Mental disorder  No mental disorder 
40 22 18

Next in our table 4(e) there is the realisation that the majority of the old persons (85%) are in fear of getting infected by coronavirus while 15% do not have such a fear in the villages. This proves that they are in conscious about this virus.

Table 4(e): Fear of getting infected by the coronavirus

Respondent Fear of getting infection No fear of getting infection
40 34 06

Now coming to the point of women who are mostly housewives in the families in our study area we see the information in table 5(a) that 65% women are concerned about their family members whom they want to stay well and fit in this crisis period.

Table 5(a): Worried about family members to stay well and safe

Female  Worried about family members  Not worried about family members 
40 26 14

The data in table 5(b) shows that they (45%) are not physically fit as the pressure of work to maintain the family has increased during the pandemic situation. They have positively responded to the work hours which have increased heavily in their families and they want their family members to keep safe and fit. Similarly, 65% of them are in a mentally risky condition due to the worry as the family income has declined in the lockdown period and they fear to getting infected by coronavirus and other non-COVID diseases. So COVID crisis has impacted the women both physically and mentally.

Table 5(b): Inconvenience to stay physically and mentally fit among women due to pressure of work

Women  Response yes Response no
Physically fit  22 18
Mentally fit 26 14

In our study the sampled women (75%) have expressed anxiety about the education of kids due to school closure although online education is going on yet they are not satisfied with this learning system.

Table 5(c) Worried about study and future of their kids

Women Worried about the study of kids Not worried about study of kids
40 30 10

From the table 5(d) it is found that the women who have responded (65%) feel anxious or irritated throughout the lockdown period due to restrictions by pandemic rules for not meeting or gathering with the outsiders and neighbours. This may also affect their mental condition although 35% have expressed no feelings of anxiety as well as irritation in this period.

Table 5(d) Feelings boredom or anxiety due to not being able to meet neighbours

Women  Feelings anxiety or bored No Feelings of anxiety or boredom
40 26 14

Coming to consider our next vital factor in the Surveyed territory in the form of violence, we find in table 5(e) that the female members of the relevant families have admitted to domestic violence. It is astonishing that 55% women have been affected by domestic violence by the men throughout the lockdown period. This may be the source of mental stress during the lockdown.

Table 5(e): The most dangerous problem that is faced by women to this hard situation is domestic violence

Female  Domestic violence  No domestic violence 
40 22 18

About 75% of those who have experienced physical violence, 65% have suffered mental violence and 55% have gone through physical and sexual violence and never sought help; and 65% of the victims do not even mention such incidents to anyone. Table 5(f) shows that those who are subjected to both physical and sexual violence are relatively more than those who suffer from only one form of abuse. This information suggests that when male and female members get employed, domestic violence tends to decline; as interactions between couples reduce under the lockdown, interaction time has increased and families have been left without access to the outside world.

Table 5(f): Types of violence and whether complaints have been made or not.

Type of violence  Never told anyone  Told someone  Sought help from a source 
Physical  30 04 06
Sexual 26 06 08
Physical and sexual 22 06 12
Total  26 5.33 8.66

Last of all we have discussed forced female child marriage taking place during lockdown due to economic hardship of the guardians of families in our Surveyed villages. This picture is not only in the Surveyed villages, it covers the whole situation of rural India during this hard time. In the next table 5(g) 45% of girl children have been forced to get married by their parents or other family members. This scenario is very pathetic to see after 73 years of independent India. This stems from the poor economic condition and lack of awareness among the people. Actually lockdown due to the COVID crisis has enhanced this disaster in rural India.

Table 5(g): Information about girl child marriage during the lockdown period

Girls child marriage  No of getting married  No of not getting married 
40 18 22

Conclusion: 

It is understood that the people of different age-groups are feeling the pain of being locked in their own houses in the period of COVID crisis. They are affected by economic hardships on one side, they experience irritation and loneliness on the other. The children are upset for not getting the school environment, the youngsters are thinking about their future, middle-agers being jobless are worried about how to maintain their families, not only that. They are also anxious to get back their jobs after the pandemic is over. Old aged are not being able to meet their neighbours of the same age, and above all women especially women are suffering from different worries in the families. Besides, that the women are victims of domestic violence by the family members; There is also the dismal picture of girls’ child marriage during the lockdown period. This proves that our developing country is now far from being developed. Many people are in mental depression because of being forced to stay at home. So we can easily observe that lockdown introduced by the government to combat the spread of coronavirus pandemic has led the people to mental as well as physical distress. This has changed our daily lives in the society. Very few are aware that Shakespeare could write excellent drama or Newton who could change science dramatically in periods of isolation.

References:

American Psychological Association report (April 16, 2020), ‘Psychological impact of COVID-19’.
Bhat et.al (April 25, 2020), ’A study on the impact of covid-19 lockdown on psychological health, economy and social life of people in Kashmir’. ‘International Journal of Science and Healthcare Research’ Vol. 5; Issue:2.
Chakroborty, Koustav and Chatterjee, Moumita (2020), ‘ Psychological impact of covid-19 pandemic a general people in West Bengal: A cross-sectional study’. Vol.2, Issue: 3, pp 266-272.
Damania, Parvez. Aviva (May 17, 2020), “National Commission for Women report”, ‘Lockdown and rise in domestic violence: How to tackle the situation if locked with an abuser’. www.theindianexpress.com.
Sengupta, Atanu and Pal. Asish Kumar (May 23, 2020), ‘Lockdown locks the rural economy: Some Preliminary signals from a surveyed village’. ‘Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 23, New Delhi, May 23, 2020’.
Varshney, M et.al. (May 29, 2020), ‘Initial psychological impact of covid-19 and its correlates in Indian community: An online (FEEL-Covid) survey’. PLOS.ONE 15(5).
WHO report, (March, 2020), ‘Mental health and psychological resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic’. www.euro.who.int.

Authors:

Dr. Asish Kumar Pal, Assistant Professor, Economics Department, Tarakeswar Degree College, Tarakeswar, Hooghly, West Bengal, India Email: asish.kr.pal[at]gmail.com

And

Dr. Atanu Sengupta, Professor, Economics Department, Burdwan University, Burdwan, West Bengal, India Email: sengupta_atanu[at]yahoo.com


[1The geographical sense of the surveyed village is discussed in detail in an earlier paper (Sengupta and Pal ‘Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 23, May 23, 2020). In fact, we are conducting a series of surveys on that village and its surrounding areas that are also being published (Sengupta and Pal ‘Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 30, New Delhi, July 11, 2020’, VOL LVIII No 26, June 13, 2020, VOL LVIII No 22, May 16, 2020, VOL LVIII).

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