COVID-19: How it psychologically affected the Rural Communities

iibp-admin Anveshan, Issue 1

We are in the midst of one of the most severe crises in global public health that the world has ever faced. India is one of the worst affected countries, with the Covid-19 pandemic having devastating impacts both on the health of the population as well as on the country’s economy.

Let’s start with the lockdown when there was no public transport, no travel permitted (except by those approved by the government), and very little transport of goods. Till 24th March, the spread of this pandemic was an urban phenomenon, largely found in locations that had foreign travelers and in a few smaller towns which had migrants from abroad. Since the lockdown was declared suddenly, the migrant laborers started returning, fearing lack of income opportunities in urban areas and that too in a panic.

Thousands traveled in packed private transport arrangements; many walked hundreds of kilometers to reach home. They all traveled from pandemic affected areas to non-affected areas in millions, and hence the disease threat had come to rural areas, where health infrastructure was of very poor quality. In totality, a major crisis emerged in rural areas threatening the health, food security, and livelihoods of millions of rural poor in the country.

While the novel coronavirus is a major physical health threat, the overlooked aspect of the pandemic is its impact on mental health. Be it the frontline warriors or the migrant workers or even ordinary people who are either without a job or confined to their homes during, the pandemic, which has posed various mental health issues.

Problems Faced by Rural Communities in Current Covid19 Crisis

Rural communities’ faced an immense amount of hardships due to the Covid19 crisis. There was panic among rural communities regarding coronavirus as it was an unprecedented crisis for rural communities. Lack of proper information and sometimes misinformation about this disease had created restlessness among the majority of the rural communities.

Issues relating to health aspects of Covid19

Lack of proper information on the cause of disease and related protective measures emerged as an immediate issue that needed urgent attention of government and civil society organizations. Several myths had entered the general conversations of rural communities despite large-scale efforts by the government to make people aware of the disease.

Large numbers of migrants had returned to villages. Migrants getting inhuman treatment both in the cities as well in their villages due to the apathy of local systems. Such a large influx of migrants also makes rural communities susceptible to the virus spread; rural areas were otherwise safe to date however cases have been detected at block level which clearly points towards emerging threats in rural areas.

Isolation centers at Panchayat and block levels lack adequate measures hence migrants hardly found any comfort and value in staying in these centers leaded to mental stress.

Issues Relating to Food Security and Livelihoods of Rural Communities

  • Most marginalized families in villages were expected to face a severe challenge in meeting food and nutrition requirements. The government has started distributing dry ration in villages on a large scale however significant numbers of extremely poor families faced food and nutrition security challenges. It was due to the unavailability of BPL cards with large numbers of poor families; also the dry ration does not meet the full nutrition requirement of rural families. Pregnant and lactating mothers were at huge risks of falling behind in terms of consuming adequate nutrition intakes.
  • Migrant families were most affected among rural communities in terms of livelihoods. Large numbers of migrants have returned to villages with hardly any cash in their pockets or bank accounts. Large numbers of families depend on distress migration for six to eight months of the year. These families felt difficult to generate incomes in their native villages as a large majority of these migrants belong to landless categories of households.
  • Overview of mental health impact on children The outbreak of COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of many people across the world. The pandemic has imposed a sense of uncertainty and anxiety, as the world was unable to predict or prepare for this crisis. It has caused a tremendous stress level among children, adolescents, and all students in general, primarily due to the closure of their schools. This stress may lead to undesirable adverse effects on the learning and psychological health of students. COVID-19 can seriously leave a negative impact on children’s mental health, just like other traumatic experiences humans may face. It can lead to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. This causes fear in children because the virus threatens not just them but also their families and surroundings, especially as they see their parents working from home, leading to fear and shock.

COVID-19 and adolescent health :

The evolution of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS CoV2) as a pandemic has disrupted the lives and daily routine drastically. Though all age groups are affected, one of the worst-hit groups is adolescents. The community health workers accredited social health activists (ASHA)/auxiliary nurse-midwifery (ANM)/Anganwadi workers (AWWs) were involved in COVID-19-related activities based on “Micro Plan for Containing Local Transmission of Coronavirus Disease.”

” Hence, the regular benefits of the adolescents have not been paid heed to. Supply of iron-folic acid (IFA) tablets, sanitary napkins, provision of supplementary nutrition, and implementation of immunization activities at the AWCs have hampered All these consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic will put adolescents at an increased risk.

In Bihar, 28% of female adolescents surveyed said they felt depressed during the lockdown as compared to 17% of male respondents. Also, 2 out of every 10 adolescents surveyed in Rajasthan felt depressed due to the lockdown” an NDTV report .

On the occasion of International Youth Day (August 12), the NGO, Population Foundation of India (PFI), released a 3-state study where they assessed the impact of India’s COVID-19 lockdown on the mental health of adolescents. In the study, many adolescents reported feeling depressed during the lockdown.

Depression is an umbrella word to describe a mixed bag of emotions. According to the journal Health line, the symptoms of depression vary from person to person. Some of the symptoms include feeling sad, empty, or anxious, less energetic, helpless, tired, or thinking more slowly. Not everyone has the same or all the symptoms.

As per the PFI report, Young women faced a “double burden” in many instances, said the PFI report, with 51% of girls reporting an increased workload of household and domestic chores due to the lockdown in comparison to 23% of boys. Young women were also more likely to report an increase in domestic flights as families were stuck within the home due to the pandemic. A girl named Sita shared her feeling I feel different during lockdown I feel trapped & anxious.

Conclusion The overall understanding of COVID-19 has expanded throughout the world, yet its immediate and long-term mental health impacts on the boys & girls are challenging to estimate. Measures to prevent the virus from spreading and tackling the uncertain situations pose risks to the psychological well-being of the adolescent. The steps taken, such as closing schools, limiting social interactions, imposing travel restrictions, halting sports activities, and transitioning all to online classes, have engendered emotional distress, fear, and anxiety amongst the children and their caregivers. It is essential that the guardians, educational institutions, and health authorities protect and guard the mental health of children consistently through open communication and facilitate professional counseling to address stressors. Additional attention should be given to the adolescents who are more susceptible to the mental health crisis through a collaborative approach by involving their parents, educators, school administrators & community leaders.

Measures to mitigate the impact of the break-in adolescent health programs/services The community involvement through building capacity of women’s collective so social capital of SHG can provide support adolescent & early identification of sign of distress & timely support to adolescent in community, another channel we can use WhatsApp group in community & training educators to on identification of distress & timely counseling.

About the Authors: Mr.Sunil Pandey is associated with Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (India) as Regional Manager, Bihar.

Ms.Neelmani Singh is associated with Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (India) as Manager- Social Development, Bihar).