A few psychologists offering voluntary mental health services have found that difficult situations and anxieties have affected Kerala’s migrant workers abroad
Crisis at the workplace, looming financial insecurity, fear of getting infected, lack of on-time medical assistance and uncertainty over returning home have put Keralites in the Arab Gulf under mental stress, pushing them to think of committing suicide, says a psychologist in Kerala.
Mini Mohan, a psychologist and sociologist, who attends on average 15 to 20 calls from mentally-stressed Keralites says that the situation is getting out of hand.
“I have been attending calls from Keralites in the Arab Gulf since the last week of March. I have been chronicling the deaths too. So far, I have recorded around 60 deaths. There are COVID-19 deaths, cardiac deaths, and also suicides,” Mini told The Lede.
In the Arab Gulf, three Keralite suicides were reported from March last week till May 01.
And according to Mini, those who committed suicide were under severe mental stress.
“A friend of one Keralite who committed suicide had told me that the deceased was worried over the delay in getting his COVID-19 test result. He was worried whether he will test positive or not,” Mini said.
The COVID-19 test result of the victim, who hailed from Kollam district in Kerala, was negative. But before that, he had ended his life in the United Arab Emirates.
“During those days, there was chaos. Many were not getting beds in hospitals if tested positive. Positive patients even had to be isolated in kitchens and terraces. The death rates were increasing all over the world and also in the Arab Gulf. So, all were stressed,” Mini added.
As per Friday's data, there are around 16,500 positive cases with 165 deaths in UAE.
In Saudi Arabia, there are 33,500 positive cases with 339 deaths. In Oman, the number of positive cases is 3000 positive cases with 15 deaths and in Qatar, there are 19,000 positive cases with 12 deaths.
Meanwhile, in Kuwait, there are 6500 cases with 44 deaths and in Bahrain, there are 4100 cases with eight cases.
Lateefh Thechy, a Keralite social worker in Saudi Arabia for the last 30 years, told The Lede over the phone that even now when some are tested positive, they are told to be in their rooms here in the Arab Gulf countries due to lack of beds.
“Without proper medication and care, these patients struggle. And finally, if some social workers rush them to hospitals when beds are available, the patient would be in a critical stage and die,” Lateefh added.
82,000 cases, 583 deaths
In all, so far, there are more than 82,000 cases with 583 deaths in the six Arab Gulf countries.
“Why won’t our fellow brothers and sisters be worried? Especially Keralites? Keralites are reading and watching news reports stating that Kerala has fought the COVID-19 well,” Mini added.
As per data, only four Keralites have died due to COVID-19 in Kerala. But data collated by Mini and other social workers reveal that 93 Keralites have died due to COVID-19 all over the world, with 51 deaths in the Arab Gulf itself.
When asked why the number of Keralites is high, Lateefh said that it is because the Arab Gulf countries are still high-risk areas.
“The virus spread is high in Arab Gulf countries. Additionally, the number of Keralites are high in Arab Gulf countries. So the chances of a Keralite getting infected is high,” Lateefh added.
Shortage of Medicines
Meanwhile, Mini said that people, especially Keralites, dying due to cardiac arrests and other diseases are mainly due to shortage of medicines at hand.
“Indians get medicines through their friends and relatives when they travel back to the Gulf countries from India. The other way is to get it couriered. Unfortunately, as India closed its land, sea, and air borders, travel came to a standstill. And the courier service had also come to a halt,” Mini said.
Medicines are very costly in the Arab Gulf and many compositions prescribed by Indian medics are not available in the Arab Gulf either.
“So when there was a lack of medicines in hand, many who were suffering from heart ailments and other diseases started to suffer, which again adds to stress. Eventually, their diseases worsen and they die,” Mini said adding that she has recorded nine cardiac deaths in UAE, two in Kuwait and five in Saudi Arabia since March last week when the COVID-19 crisis started to worsen.
During the second last week of March, the Kerala government had arranged with a courier service to send medicines for the needy.
However, delays in shipments are worrying patients.
An Indian cancer patient in Oman told The Lede that the medicine he ordered through the Kerala government arranged courier service in Kerala is currently in Hong Kong.
“More than physical hassles, the mental stress due to lack of medicine is high,” the patient said.
According to Mini, Keralites always have a strong feeling of wanting to return to Kerala.
“Anywhere in the world, the Keralites see their homeland as heaven and will be nurturing nostalgic feelings of home. This is high among those who are working in the Arab Gulf because of the harsh working conditions there. So when some crisis erupts, they will run pillar to post to return. They say let us die in the homeland. And when they realise that there are stuck, then they fall into depression,” Mini added.
When Kerala’s non-resident Keralite department started an online platform seeking application from Keralites who want to return from abroad, in three days four lakh registered expressing their willingness to return.
According to the department, out of the four lakh, some 60,000 who had registered were those who had lost their jobs.
Kerala’s non-resident department had also set up a telemedicine facility to support the Keralites.
According to Mini, other than that, there are no official telephone support facilities.
Only a few like her are extending voluntary telephone help.
Suicide Rates Will Rise
According to a Lancet study, the mental health effects of COVID-19 pandemic might be profound and there are suggestions that suicide rates will rise, although this is not inevitable.
“Suicide is likely to become a more pressing concern as the pandemic spreads and has longer-term effects on the general population, the economy, and vulnerable groups. Preventing suicide therefore needs urgent consideration. The response must capitalise on, but extend beyond, general mental health policies and practices,” the study says.
“There is some evidence that deaths by suicide increased in the USA during the 1918–19 influenza pandemic and among older people in Hong Kong during the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic. The current context is different and evolving. A wide-ranging interdisciplinary response that recognises how the pandemic might heighten risk and applies knowledge about effective suicide prevention approaches is key,” the study adds.
According to National Crime Records Bureau, all India rate of suicides was 10.2 during the year 2018. Andaman & Nicobar Islands reported the highest rate of suicide (41) followed by Puducherry (33.8), Sikkim (30.2), Chhattisgarh (24.7) and Kerala (23.5).
The Kerala rate reveals that it is double the national average.
Even though India reported the first COVID-19 positive case on January 30, in a bid to fight COVID-19, India had sent a 15-member medical team and medicines to Kuwait during the second week of April.
Even though medicines and medics were promised to be sent to UAE in April last week, the social workers said that it has yet to happen.
And only on May 05, the Indian government rolled out an evacuation plan named Vande Bharat Mission to bring back Indians from 15 countries.
In the first week, approximately some 14,800 Indians would be brought back on two ships and 64 flights.
Meanwhile, talking to The Lede, a senior official from Ministry of External Affairs, said that COVID-19 cells are being set up in India embassies to address Indians grievances.
“Embassies have been sensitised to address the COVID-19 related queries raised by Indians politely. However, there are no specific mental support mechanisms set up. But our departments are always reaching out to needy Indians without any delay,” the official added.
There are around nine million Indians in the Arab Gulf.
Suicide is not the solution for your problems. Hold on to hope. There is always help. If you have a plan in place for a suicide, or you’ve acquired the means to complete a suicide, you must call Ministry of External Affairs' toll-free number 1800118797 or Mini Mohan at +91 9895314501.