Year : 2020 | Volume
: 62 | Issue : 3 | Page : 233--234
Mental health of migrant laborers in COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown: Challenges ahead
Professor of Psychiatry, WBMES and Consultant Psychiatrist, AMRI Hospitals, Kolkata, West Bengal, India
Dr. O P Singh
AA 304, Ashabari Apartments, O/31, Baishnabghata, Patuli Township, Kolkata - 700 094, West Bengal
|How to cite this article:|
Singh O P. Mental health of migrant laborers in COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown: Challenges ahead.Indian J Psychiatry 2020;62:233-234
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Singh O P. Mental health of migrant laborers in COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown: Challenges ahead. Indian J Psychiatry [serial online] 2020 [cited 2020 May 29 ];62:233-234
Available from: http://www.indianjpsychiatry.org/text.asp?2020/62/3/233/284460
The recent pictures of migrant laborers in Delhi walking long distances and desperately looking for means to reach their hometowns have brought the plight of migrant laborers in the forefront. People walking hundreds of kilometers to reach their homes with their families including the elderly and small children and putting their lives at risk have stirred the nation's conscience.
For the most part, migrant labor is all pervasive but invisible. As a significant component, migrants play an important role in the labor market and India's growth story. They keep our cities running, but their existence is hardly acknowledged. They are excluded from most of the policy initiatives. Data from the National Sample Survey (NSS) in 2007–2008 revealed that about 28.3% of the workforces in India were migrants. According to the 2011 census, there were 454 million migrants in India; this figure showed a hike of 139 million from 315 million in the 2001 census. The figure was 220 million in the 1991 census. Thus, the figures doubled in 20 years. According to the NSS 64th round, about 43% of Delhi's and Mumbai's population are migrants.
Apart from poverty and poor housing, overcrowding migrants face exclusion due to differences in their language or appearance. There are various instances of resentment by local people who demand jobs for sons of the soil considering migrant workers a threat. While the educated and permanent migrants can bear the onslaught and become part of the citizenship, the migrant laborers with low education, doing seasonal work, and staying at unauthorized colonies are more vulnerable. Most of the time, they do not get the benefits of public schemes such as public distribution of food, free education, and health-care facilities due to lack of registration and documentation. Most of their documents are related to their place of origin, with a significant proportion lacking any relevant documents.
Many studies across the globe have consistently found a positive association of common mental disorders with adverse circumstances such as poverty, inequality, and financial debt. Social inequalities between different social groups in terms of gender, education, race, income, language, customs and traditions, and areas of residence are consistently associated with common mental disorders. Migrant laborers due to their unique and disadvantageous position are particularly vulnerable to all these risk factors.
Poor mental health was found significantly higher among single, unskilled, illiterate daily wage laborers with higher years of migration and lack of housing and sanitation. National Crime Records Bureau report, 2018, has found 22.4% suicides among daily wage earners, with a maximum number of suicides being reported from Maharashtra, followed by Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka.
COVID-19 outbreak and consequent nationwide lockdown have resulted in a significant deterioration in all the social determinants of health. Loss of income and jobs, insecurities, and social isolation are increasing and are likely to deteriorate the mental health of migrant population which may worsen in postlockdown periods. There are high chances of increase in suicide considering the poor utilization of health services in general and mental health services in particular. To mitigate this, a focused approach is required so that mental health services reach them in the community. This is going to be a huge challenge for our government and its institutions. The Indian Psychiatric Society must work alongside the institutions in order to rise to this challenge.
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