The war against COVID-19 is a Psychological one and our Nation is winning it right!How the pandemic has engulfed our minds and How the Government is spearheading a fight against it~By Prepsa Saini, Young Professional, NITI Aayog As the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) aggressively swells across the globe, our nation, like most of the world, is grappling with a steep rise in reported cases and fatalities. The virus, termed as COVID-19 by the WHO, is touted as one of the most dangerous viruses that have reached human civilizations since the recorded history. It is an unprecedented situation which a vast majority of us have not quite experienced. It reminds us of the horrifying stories from the early 20th century when the Spanish flu took the lives of around 50 million people.Times like these are stressful. Information continues to being fed to us through digital media, print media and our family and friends. As nature downpours its wrath, what it brings on the frontline for the entire society, is a question largely unanswered and unthought of; how a pandemic can affect our mental and psychosocial well-being. Therefore, minding our minds becomes an incredible challenge for all of us. It not only impacts the physical, social, and economic front but also significantly impacts the mental and psychosocial well-being of the individuals.FEAR: THE INVISIBLE ENEMYIn any disastrous situation, it is common for individuals to feel stressed and worried. The most common emotion faced by all is fear. Behaviorally, our survival instinct kicks in and the person feels fear on diversified fronts. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought its own set of fears arising from insecurities which include health insecurity due to the risk of being infected and infecting others, especially when the transmission mode of COVID-19 is not fully established; common symptoms of other health problems (e.g. cough, fever) mistaken for COVID-19. Financial insecurity- loss of income, jobs, helplessness, social and emotional insecurity (due to boredom, isolation/loneliness and in some cases extreme depression leading to suicidal tendencies). COVID has presented an unprecedented challenge for the health workers who fear to infect their family members as they go back home. Different age groups have different fears. Children feel lack of activity, suffocation from wearing a mask, elderly and disabled are the most vulnerable as they are isolated in an extreme manner.This consistency in the build-up of fear can lead to long-term consequences for individuals, families, and communities at large. Patients, health professionals, sanitary workers alike could go under insurmountable psychological pressure which may lead to various psychological problems, such as anxiety, fear, depression, and in some cases, leading to suicides.GOVERNMENTS EFFORTS IN BUILDING NATION’S RESISTANCE At this very instance, the acknowledgment of mental health is half the battle won. Our hon’ble Prime Minister played a commendable role in spearheading the nation’s call for – “Jan hai toh janah hai”- by reaching out to people and ensuring India stays well ahead in this battle. The announcement of stimulus and relief package for the people at the bottom of the economic pyramid hits all the checkpoints – Psychological support, sharing of emotional burden, development of a sense of companionship by acknowledging the tougher ground realities. It is strengthening the unity of nation. It is codifying and developing emotional resistance to such emergencies; which determines a nation’s ability to come out better from such tough times. The Government of India in its strategic move didn’t only take the most stringent of actions for the fight against the virus, but examined the situation and its long-term consequences and took steps for the overall well-being of its citizens.The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) released several videos, audio-visual aids as well as advisories for the behavioral health of every individual under the campaign ‘Help us to help you’. These aids are available in both English and in Hindi. These are practical tips to take care of one’s mental health during the lockdown; an audio-visual aid on managing stress and depression. ‘Lockdown to knockdown COVID-19’ is an animated video with lucid tips. The Ministry has also given measures on dealing with social isolation, emotional problems, emotional issues after recovery, ways to recognize mental health problems in beloved and caring for persons with mental illness. The proven conventional warriors, Meditation and Yoga, have come to the rescue as the Ministry is rolling out awareness campaigns on Meditation and Yoga for stress management. (Available in both English & Hindi).The vulnerable groups, especially the elderly and children need special and additional care at this hour. The MoHFW has curated a video under ‘Help us to help you’ campaign on ‘Connecting with the little ones during the COVID 19 Lockdown’ and ‘Taking care of mental health of children and elderly during COVID – 19’.Several prominent health experts from institutions like NIMHANS, Bangalore, Govt. Medical College & Hospital, Chandigarh, and Sneha, Mumbai have given simple measures that can be performed by individuals to manage mental health and well-being during the COVID19 outbreak. These are videos & advisories and similar content is available on the MoHFW website. For people in need of assistance, a Psycho-Social toll-free helpline number has also been provided.A set of books, both in Hindi and English have been transported to the quarantine centers so that people not only make good use of their time and their behavioral health is also taken care of. A publishing house has also donated 1,000 books to coronavirus quarantine centers in Kashmir.The links between mental health and immunity are very strong. Mental health is an umbrella term for many conditions. Our mental health affects how we think, feel and act. But it also impacts our physical health, how our body deals with infection, how we recover and repair. Enhancing the body’s natural defense system (immunity) plays an important role in maintaining optimum mental health. In view of the same, The Ministry of AYUSH has also recommended self-care guidelines for preventive health measures and boosting immunity with special reference to respiratory health. These are supported by Ayurvedic literature and scientific publications.SPECIAL INITIATIVE TO SUPPORT DAILY-WAGE WORKERSIndia saw a mass movement of workers and daily wage earners from cities back to their villages. Cutoff from their hometowns due to the lockdown, hundreds of migrants are currently living in shelter homes and make-shift camps across India. The MoHFW has asked facilities such as NIMHANS, Banglore and CIP-Ranchi and State Governments to provide mental health support, counseling services and other support for the thousands of migrant workers currently housed in relief camps and shelter homes across India. The MoHFW also issued guidelines on dealing with the psychological issues of migrant workers. Additionally, there are directions to involve teams of professionals available under the District Mental Health Programme to provide counseling services. The ministry shared a list of clinical psychologists and counselors registered to the Indian Association of Clinical Psychologists who have volunteered to provide counseling. Similarly, The Ministry of Home Affairs has asked the States to take care of the medical and psychological needs of the migrant workers along with food and shelter requirements. Another boon in these times of COVID-19 is the release of the telemedicine guidelines by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in partnership with NITI Aayog and Medical Council of India, which would prove invaluable in counseling in these testing times.The State of Tamil Nadu, under the Tamil Nadu Psychology Association, has made a team of 63 psychologists, who are offering counseling over the telephone in both Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. Assam, similarly, under the Sarathi 104 Health Helpline has been offering 24×7 health advice, counseling, information sharing and reporting of COVID 19 to callers every day. On average, the team has been attending to approximately 8000 calls in a day post.PRIORITIZING WOMEN AND CHILD CAREThe Ministry of Women & Child Development has also issued a “Coping Strategy regarding children during COVID-19 situation.” This guide focuses on ways to minimize adverse effects on the mental health of children and adolescents in these times of pandemic and suggests 16 steps for parents and caregivers on how they can be more reassuring to their children. Further, the guide also elaborates on how to identify and cater to stress response in children as well as steps to be taken by parents/caregivers to support themselves. The ministry has also circulated a fact-based information document in Hindi for Pregnant and Lactating women with do’s and don’ts, how to cope during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Instructions on the continuous nutritional support for beneficiaries under Anganwadi Services to States and UTs was another step of aid and relief.WEAPONS OF MASS-CAREThe Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has set up a Fact Check Unit to receive messages from the public at large and respond to them in a defined time-frame. This unit will also keep a check on any fake news causing distress in the population. Further, audio and visual creatives on awareness, etc. prepared by various agencies of the government have been disseminated after translation into local languages. Best practices of States/UTs in tackling the pandemic; positive messages by various celebrities are being broadcasted by the Ministry at the national level.The launch of the Arogya Setu app will have a positive impact on the population and give a sense of safety at hand as one of the key features of the application is self-assessment and it provides a complete list of helpline numbers across the country. This application not only helps citizens identify their risk of contracting the novel coronavirus but is designed to keep the users informed in case s/he has crossed paths with someone who has tested positive. Available in 11 languages, as of date 50 million people have downloaded the Arogya Setu app.Psychological crisis intervention plays a pivotal role in the overall deployment of any disease control. Healthcare workers including doctors, nurses, and allied & healthcare professionals are rendering their services tirelessly to provide care and medical/ clinical support in this situation of crisis. Sanitary workers and police are also doing selfless service and playing critical roles in addressing the challenge of COVID-19. The Ministry of Finance under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan package has announced the medical insurance scheme for frontline workers (sanitation staff, doctors, ASHA workers, paramedics, and nurses) involved in managing the COVID-19 outbreak. Accepting mental health as a challenge by the government is indeed noteworthy.The fight against coronavirus is a long one. We have entered lockdown 2.0. India, with its growing efforts, will emerge over this pandemic. As the famous saying goes, give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself; therefore, taking care of our health and well-being as well as of those around us by adhering to simple measures, can make us victorious in this fight and will show the world our strength as a unified nation.DISCLAIMER: Views expressed above are the author’s own.