Evidence is emerging in Indonesia of a serious rise in mental health problems associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the crisis has revealed the urgent need for investment in the area, Sudirman Nasir writes.
COVID-19 presents a serious threat to both physical and mental health, but policymakers in Indonesia have so far mostly focused on its impact on physical wellbeing, rather than mental wellbeing. Aside from the clear burden of COVID-19 as a physical disease, the pandemic had produced uncertainty and altered the daily routines of millions of people, triggered psychological issues, created financial pressures, and required extensive social isolation from people.
This is sure to have a lasting effect. Indonesians, as people are the world over, are increasingly, and fairly, worried about getting sick, how long the pandemic will last, and what the future will bring. This is taking a psychological toll. On top of this, information overload and the spread of misinformation contributes even further to a collective feeling of things being out of control.
It is not surprising that, with a significant increase of fear, loneliness, frustration, and sadness – as there has been for many people throughout the COVID-19 pandemic – comes an increase in mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depression.
In turn, these symptoms can contribute to other issues, such as drug and alcohol abuse, self-harm, suicide attempts, or violent behaviour, both during and after the pandemic’s peak. It is also noteworthy that mental health problems often manifest themselves in various physical symptoms too, such as headaches, diarrhea, constipation, or constant fatigue, and that these may weaken immunity and make struggling individuals more susceptible to infection by COVID-19 or to developing other health problems.
Studies on the mental health impacts of previous disease outbreaks support this too, and have clearly indicated a significant increase in anxiety, depression, and suicide rates among people effected by the disease.
So, what should the government do?
It is noteworthy that a person’s capability or resilience to cope with stress and mental health problems vary, and more resources and attention should be provided to vulnerable groups such as people with existing chronic health conditions, including mental health problems, the elderly, and the disabled, as well as teenagers and children.
In this specific case, policymakers should consider which groups are especially vulnerable due to the systemic impacts of COVID-19, like those people who are recently out of a job due to the economic slowdown, or healthcare workers who have been part of the pandemic response.
Studies have also established links between unemployment and mental health, particularly among men, because of the psychological and cultural significance of employment to male identity in most cultures of the world. These studies also showed that unemployment frequently creates…