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WHO asks Ccountires in South-East Asia region to focus on mental health, suicide prevention

With the coronavirus pandemic still accelerating, impacting lives and livelihoods and causing fear and anxiety among people, the World Health Organization on Thursday called upon countries in the South-East Asia Region to pay a greater attention to mental health and suicide prevention.

Stigma related to COVID-19 infection may also lead to feeling of isolation and depression, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region, said.

She said another precipitating factor impacting the mental health amid COVID-19 could be domestic violence, which is reported to have increased during the lockdowns imposed by almost all countries in the region to slow the spread of the virus.

“Hitting lives and livelihoods, the pandemic is causing fear, anxiety, depression and stress among people. Social distancing, isolation and coping with perpetually evolving and changing information about the virus has both triggered and aggravated existing and pre-existing mental health conditions which need urgent attention,” Singh said.

Early identification of mental health conditions, recognition of suicidal behaviours and appropriate management through a multi-sectoral approach is important, even as we continue to focus on arresting the further spread of the pandemic, she underlined.

Singh said suicide claims almost 8,00,000 lives every year globally and is the leading cause of death among young people aged 15-29 years. Evidence shows that for each adult who dies of suicide, there are more than 20 others attempting suicide, the WHO Regional Director said.

The WHO South-East Asia Region accounts for 39 per cent of global suicide mortality, she said. “Though preventable, suicide is a serious public health problem. Survivors of suicide attempts and their family often face stigma and discrimination in many forms. The impact of suicide on families, friends and communities is devastating and far-reaching,”

Singh noted. In these challenging times, we must work towards providing a comprehensive, integrated and responsive mental health and social-care services in community-based settings, as outlined in the WHO South-East Asia Region’s Suicide Prevention Strategy, she said.

As individual vulnerabilities and socio-cultural factors differ between and within populations, the Regional Suicide Prevention Strategy guides countries on strategising and planning for suicide prevention through a multi-sectoral public health approach, she added.

Also Read | Uttar Pradesh: Woman commits suicide 2 days after wedding in Muzaffarnagar

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