There is an injured man lying on the road in need of immediate medical attention. Three people come up to help him. One is a doctor with multiple years of experience, the other person is someone who has been trained in first aid administration and is currently pursuing a medical degree and the last person is a layman with no knowledge of any medical or first-aid procedures. It is pretty obvious who should help the person in what order of preference. First the doctor, then the to-be-doctor and the last option would be to have the layman help.

But let’s make this a little more interesting. The doctor is getting late for a shift at the emergency ward where a lot of people have been admitted due to a major car accident in the other part of town. Should he really stop in his hurry to help this man? What would be the ethical thing to do?

Let’s imagine he stopped to help but realized that there is a man already there, the man trained in first-aid who can help him until the ambulance arrives. Now he can leave with a clear conscience.

The layman is the last hope for help in both the scenarios, only needed when there is no one else to help.

Now come to the present scenario.

There is a pandemic raging across the country. Many people have lost their loved ones. Most of us are living with the constant fear of catching the virus and being in the same situation as so many of our compatriots. There is mental stress everywhere you see. People have been trying to put together mental health resources that people can reach out to in case they need to talk to someone about anything.

We are in the same situation as the second situation above. Our experienced psychologists, most of them have been inundated with clients since last year. A psychologist can hardly take on more than 10 clients at a time without risking burnout. Since last year, many professionals have been handling close to 20 clients – double the usual workload.

There are many people like me who are yet to qualify from our master’s degree so we cannot officially use our knowledge of counselling. So, we sit down and do nothing. The doctor has left for the emergency ward and we, who know what to do, (albeit without the experience and degrees necessary) sit and do nothing. Instead, we encourage the layman to not do anything either lest they cause anymore damage.

We are in times of a crisis. Ethically, I understand that those psychology students who are pursuing their degrees are not qualified but this is not a normal situation. These aren’t normal times. Even medical colleges have started roping in students in 4th and 5th years of their medical degree to help out and here we are, doing absolutely nothing to help anyone.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made us question many of our ethical procedures but we need to understand that these ethics are not written in stone to never be changed.

Psychology has a contribution to make in this pandemic. We cannot turn away from it at the peak of it all.

What contribution do you think psychology can make to the COVID-19 crisis in India?