27 October 2008

Financial Crisis, Mental Health and ...

The current financial meltdown, with its epicenter in the United States, has been having serious global repercussions. The 30-share sensitive index (Sensex) of the Bombay Stock Exchange which had peaked to 21,206.77 in January 10, 2008 has fallen to 7,697.39 at 1330 hours before stabilizing at 8509.56 by the end of the day on October 27, 2008. On the eve of Diwali (October 28, 2008), this belies hope.

This will have serious implications on the mental health of the population. Particularly so, for those directly involved in the financial/stock market. There are already indications that sale of over-the-counter anti-depressants have increased. A possible fallout is increase in incidence of self-harm (suicides). The earlier East Asian Crisis and earlier financial crisis are witness to such occurrences. In India, as well as elsewhere, the public health system, the medical fraternity (particularly Psychiatrists) and other civil society groups like The Samaritans, Mumbai. Sooner or later such incidences would come to the media's notice. Before reporting, they should have a look at the World Health Organization's Preventing Suicides: A resource for Media Persons.

True, despite the unprecedented fall in the Sensex, the levels are still around what was reigning in October 2005. Some say, the correction was necessary, as the higher levels was more on account of an hype in the financial sector, rather than being in sync with good fundamentals in the real sector. It is the unregulated greed that has led to this situation.

A question that comes to mind is why such a fall would be associated with mental health leading to self-harm. An anecdote cited in some discussions on farmers' suicides would help. A farmer while comparing his situation to that of a labourer indicated that the latter has been living under dire circumstances, and of course needs attention, but our situation is akin to a fall in level. Recourse to self-harm is complex and multifaceted. But, if reductions in level is one of the risk factors then this is definitely the case with the current financial crisis.

It is also worth mentioning that the current financial crisis, the ethnic strife that one sees within the country as also elsewhere in the world, and the larger agrarian crisis which manifested in a food crisis globally are not independent occurrences. They are part of the larger scheme of things, which as some commentators say, involves displacement of people as well as displacement of ideas.

The agrarian/food crisis and the ethnic strife do reflect that something is fundamentally wrong in the real sector; it is not people-centric. The problem was accepted, but instead of addressing the problem the solutions tried to address the symptoms. Or, to put it in a different perspective, the emphasis was on means rather than the ends. To conclude, one would state "Business as usual is no longer an option." (IAASTD)

PS: The Interactive Panel of the United Nations General Assembly on the Global Financial Crisis, 30 October 2008, United Nations Headquarters had presentations by Joseph Stiglitz, Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Prabhat Patnaik, Pedro Páez, Calestous Juma, and François Houtart.

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