The COVID-19 break out has affected our routine very much. And one of the things that affects us most is our health. The coronavirus pandemic has fully impacted our physical as well as mental health. According to the UN Population Fund, the impact on health has been far greater. The agency has also said that feelings of fear, isolation, grief, and economic stress can also be seen in people. So, in this regard, shuttered support services have taken a toll on the mental well-being of people throughout the world.
Many counselors have reported that there is an urgent demand for mental and psychological support. It is because, in lockdown, people are passing through different problems. Mostly, women and girls who are facing an increase in gender-based violence. Additionally, Pema, a mental health counselor who volunteers with the UNFPA in central Bhutan, has observed this first-hand. Moreover, she recently said that this lockdown had brought the whole country to a standstill, but domestic violence or violence against women and girls has increased.
The Surge in Gender-Based Violence
Due to the rush into gender-based violence, a volunteer counselor since 2007, Pema started providing services over the telephone due to pandemic. Pema said she had been busy providing tele counseling services to people passing through physical or mental violence.
Similarly, the UNFPA-supported One Stop Crises center, located at the National Referral Hospital in Thimpu, has also observed a sufficient increase in both gender-based violence and mental health concerns.
A UNFPA program officer, Dechen Chime, has also said that during the first three months of COVID-19 restrictions, 22 cases of rape/sexual assault were reported to the One-Stop crisis center. She added that over three weeks in August, the national newspaper also reported an increasing number of suicide cases.
UNFPA-supported non-governmental organizations and shelters across the country have also mentioned dozens of cases of violence against women and girls in the lockdown.
Demand for Tele Counselling – Mental Health Services
In Bhutan, the first case of COVID-19 appeared in March. After this, they start shuttering schools and all the other institutions. So, during the first month of the closures, the civil society organization RENEW delivered more than 200 tele counseling services to work on the mental health of people.
For Pema, it was not enough. She explained that for that last five days, she had been attending to a severe marital rape case through the telephone. The perpetrator had already been reported and was under police custody. That day, her client had called her seven times, and she was a bit worried. She wanted to visit her, so she was applying for a moment order from the COVID-19 taskforce.
Community Volunteer Network
A taskforce is a multi-sectoral group. It usually addresses issues such as HIV and sexually transmitted infections. Today, much of the pandemic response is better than before. With UNFPA’s support, the task force has been working closely with the community volunteer network for over six years.
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Mental Health Services Need More Attention
Pandemic declaration saw the coordination’s efforts to kick off. The vulnerable population identified information about support and services through television and social media through UNFPA and partners. Despite these efforts, UNFPA has warns that the need is continuing to increase, and requires urgent attention.
Supporting Gross National Happiness
According to UNFPA, Bhutan had recognized the importance of ensuring mental health. And since the 1970s, the country’s official development policy has been guided according to the concept of “Gross National Happiness”. Plus, the ministry of health has established a dedicated hotline, that is led by some senior psychiatrists, to respond to those crises. So, anyone at risk of self-harm and suicide can take any mental health support from these, free of cost.