Depression in Pandemic: Cutting deeper thru the youth
Imrul Kayes, a student of mass communication and journalism at Rajshahi University, was suffering from severe depression.
When his friends noticed this, they took him to a psychiatrist in Rajshahi. His mental health started improving.
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But the student had to return home in Jashore after the university was closed for an indefinite period in March last year due to the pandemic.
“His condition deteriorated then,” said one of his friends requesting anonymity.
According to his mother, Imrul had planned to purchase a DSLR camera and a motorbike. He became very disappointed that he could not arrange the money. “He used to press us to buy him those, but also realised that it was very difficult for us to fulfil his wish.”
His parents eventually bought him a motorbike but it made him even more frustrated when he learned that they had to borrow money.
On September 24, the RU student died by suicide failing to cope with severe depression.
Imrul is among four university students who died by suicide from September 23 to 30 this year, according to media reports.
A recent survey by Aachol Foundation, a non-profit organisation which creates awareness of mental health among students, found that 14,436 people committed suicide from March 8, 2020 to March 8, 2021. Forty-nine percent of them were aged between 18 and 35.
However, Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics data show that about 10,000 people die by suicide in Bangladesh every year on average.
In another study conducted in September on 2,552 tertiary level students from all types of educational institutions across the country, Aachol Foundation found that 84.6 percent of the students suffered from mental health problems during the pandemic.
About 75 percent of the respondents said they lost interest in continuing study and 29 percent of them committed different types of self-harming activities due to depression related to education and their future careers.
Some 21 percent of the youths thought of committing suicide at least once in the last one year.
Uncertainty over their future career, deteriorating financial condition of their families amid the pandemic, death of family members from Covid, loneliness, and breaking up of relationship due to long-term separation during the pandemic are some of the key reasons mentioned by the students for their depression.
Prof Dr Mahjabeen Haque of Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology at Dhaka University said Aachol Foundation’s findings were not unexpected at all.
“For our youths, Covid-19 pandemic has suddenly created an uncertain situation. Educational institutions were closed, job market is shrinking and many families were destroyed financial during the pandemic,” she told The Daily Star.
“Again, in this age, youths usually develop romantic relationship many of which have also been ruined by the long period of separation during the pandemic. Youths also love to spend a lot of time with their peers which they used to do at their institutions.”
As the institutions were closed, youths could not share their emotions and experiences with their friends, the DU teacher said. “They lost their financial independence and had to remain confined to their home for a long time. For those who live in families which are not very supportive, things became even tougher. In this way, the pandemic has made a devastating impact on the mental health of our youth,” Mahjabeen said.
Experts have also pointed out the fact that most cases of mental health problems remain untreated in Bangladesh as the treatment is taboo and there is a severe shortage of trained manpower.
According to the national mental health survey of Bangladesh 2018-19, jointly conducted by the Bangladesh government and World Health Organisation (WHO), 92 percent adults with mental health problems do not get any treatment and 94 percent youths aged between 18 and 23 with mental health problems do not receive any treatment.
The survey found that 18.7 percent of Bangladesh’s population aged 18 and above have mental disorders.
Dr Mohammad Muntasir Maruf, assistant registrar at National Institute of Mental Health, said seeking treatment for mental health problems is still taboo in Bangladesh.
“People do not want to share their personal issues of anxiety or frustration fearing harassment and being stigmatised by the society. Patients are taken to hospitals only when they become severely ill.
“Despite this, we are having an increasing number of young patients with anxiety disorders, depression and obsessive compulsive disorders induced by the pandemic.”
He said the country’s treatment capacity is also highly insufficient as there are only 270 psychiatrists and about 500 psychologists to treat a huge number of patients with mental disorders.”
“There is no course or training facility for psychiatric and mental health nurses in Bangladesh. Study of mental health is also very neglected in Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) curricula which exacerbated the scarcity of trained professionals,” the physician said.
Experts suggested a unified approach from the family, society and the government to save youths from the imminent mental health disaster.
Prof Mahjabeen said, “It has been found in various studies, including one conducted by Aachol Foundation, that youths who spend more time on devices and do not maintain regular sleep cycle are more vulnerable to anxiety disorder. It is important to maintain a healthy environment at home so that young members can lead a disciplined life.”
Tansen Rose, founder of Aachol Foundation, said: “Our society also has some responsibilities to keep our next generation mentally healthy. Our youths face tough competitions in every step of their life — from primary school to getting a job. The society puts a lot of expectations and pressure on them. When they fail to meet these expectations, they often face criticism, insult and neglect. Such practices should be stopped. We should keep in mind that when a person suffers from mental health issues, such an act can put pressure on him/her to commit suicide.”
Stressing the need for enhancing the country’s mental healthcare capacity, Dr Maruf said at least 10 years is needed to produce enough psychiatrists and psychologists to treat a huge number of mental health patients.
“In the meantime, we should train our existing doctors and nurses to treat patients. In this way, we can extend mental healthcare services to general hospitals and upazila health complexes.”
He suggested integrating social workers and counsellors into the healthcare system and mobilising them to raise awareness among the youths about mental health issues.