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Trigger warning regarding mental health and suicide.

Sushant Singh Rajput, Disha Salian, Sudha Devi lost to mental health

Mental health has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Headlines relating to suicide have sent shock waves through the community. A successful tinsel star, Sushant Singh Rajput and his former manager, Disha Salian, succumbed to their mental health within one week of each other. And in a tragically poetic fashion, as Sushant Singh Rajput’s last rites were performed, his sister-in-law, Sudha Devi, passed away, who had allegedly stopped eating upon learning of his death. The rippling effect of mental health ran its course.

Popular for his acting in both TV and film, the 34-year-old actor, delivered a strong anti-suicide message in his last seen 2019 film ‘Chhichhore’. On June 14, 2020, the actor was found in his Mumbai home. He was reportedly suffering from depression. A week earlier, he had written a heartbroken Instagram story addressing the suicide of his 28-year-old former manager, Disha Salian.

Is it the lockdown and the resulting loneliness or is it the disease itself?

“It is both,” said Dr. Farida Sohrabji, Regents Professor and Interim Head, Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics, Texas A&M College of Medicine, at a webinar organized by Ethnic Media Services, June 12, 2020. Both the molecular impacts of the virus and the pandemic-related isolation leads to depression,” she said.

The impact of social isolation can be quite devastating in many ways. Social isolation increases the risk of cardiovascular ailment, heightens the symptoms of autoimmune disease, and increases mental health issues. Not interacting with people increases the stress hormone cortisol and weakens the immune system. People who don’t have the virus but are being socially isolated slip into depression. The senior population, or those with comorbidities like diabetes, hypertension, etc., are isolated for their own good. They are entrapped by voluntary confinement and fall prey to depression.

And then there are those that are infected by the virus.“The virus enters the body through the nose,” says Dr. Sohrabji, “The nose is somewhat exposed to the brain and the virus can end up in the brain in the olfactory system (how we smell things). This area is strongly implicated with depression.”

Additionally, the full-blown inflammation caused by the virus has an effect on the brain and mood of the patient. “The proteins that fight the virus slash and burn cells in the war against the virus and the resulting inflammation can lead to depression,” she said. “ The medical community’s first thought was that the virus is akin to a respiratory disease but it has been noticed to be more than that. A broad basket of mental issues has been caused by it.”

Social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus can lead to depression and anxiety, while those infected with COVID-19 can experience mental health issues, including depression. Being cognizant of the dangers caused by the lockdown can help us help each other stay sane and safe. 

What can help?

A study by Harvard Medical School has a unique solution. Foster a pet. Pets have a calming effect. Dogs’ calming effect on humans appears to help people handle stress, the study says. Research suggests that people with dogs experience less cardiovascular reactivity during times of stress. That means that their heart rate and blood pressure go up less and return to normal more quickly, dampening the effects of stress on the body.

The power of touch appears to be an important part of this “pet effect.” Several studies show that blood pressure goes down when a person pets a dog. Having a dog is good for your heart too, says the study. Besides, dog owners tend to get more exercise as well. As coronavirus spreads across the US, Americans have stepped up to foster and adopt animals, keeping them out of shelters.

Contextualizing

”We come up with our sort-of explanations, even if they are not particularly persuasive, and then file the event away,” says Malcolm Gladwell on suicide. “I keep coming back to how important context is in understanding behavior.” 

The incontrovertible fact is that Sushant Singh Rajput, Sudha Devi, and Disha Salian were casualties of mental anguish during the lockdown. Rest in peace to all the lives that have been lost due to mental health.

Ritu Marwah is an award-winning author whose interest in history has led her to chronicle our life in times of COVID. How many more must we lose?

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