“WHAT MENTAL HEALTH NEEDS IS MORE SUNLIGHT, MORE CANDOR, AND MORE UNASHAMED CONVERSATIONS”
BY DHARA TANDON
The Coronavirus pandemic, now widely seen as the most dreadful calamity, swayed away the entire nation creating havoc amongst people with such an unexpected wave and reach. COVID-19 manifested to be life threatening and lethal as well as mentally disturbing. People lost their jobs and their loved ones, countries all over facing adverse and concerning economic troubles, poor and vulnerable segments of society are several times worse and moreover it has affected people’s mental health.
In India, WHO estimates that the burden of mental health problems is of the tune of 2,443 DALY’s per 100,000 population. Over 90 million Indians, or 7.5 percent of the country’s population of 1.3 billion, suffer from mental illness or disorder. Amid growing concerns about the global pandemic, mental health concerns have taken a hit and how. But How Committed is India to Mental Health?
India’s progress on mental health is a depressing tale. According to various reports, there is no central aggregation of statistics on treatment for mental disorders and it is hard to believe in a country where every 7th person will likely to have a mental disorder in his/her lifetime doesn’t even bother to collate data at one place. Good mental health is an essential component of overall well-being and considering the current situation and how it has impacted individuals all over, mental health in India has still been the neglected component of well-being in COVID-19 era. So where are we lacking? How can India improve its mental health policies and revive the importance of mental healthcare and well-being?
The first and foremost reason for India to lose its mental health is the lack of awareness and sensitivity about the issue. There is still a stigma around people suffering from any kind of mental issues. They are often considered and tagged as “lunatics” by the society and this leads to a cycle of shame and suffering of the patients. Mental health promotion and protection involves creating an environment which promotes healthy living and encourages people to adopt healthy lifestyle. Mental health situation in India demands active intervention by the government. To reduce the stigma around people, we need to train and sensitize the community/society and this can only happen when we have persistent nationwide effort to educate the society.
At present, over 36 million people around the world have had COVID-19 which further impacts mental health. In the last few months, India has experienced a lot of disappointments- in the form of farmer’s and student’s suicides, bullying and trolling, economic collapse, public protests, human rights abuses and deaths due to COVID-19 and lockdown. All this prompts us to think if we are actually in a state of good mental health?
Mental health is often associated with a lot of discrimination. There is a little comprehensive data on the prevalence of psychological disorders around the world. But estimates suggests one in seven people on the planet have mental or substance use disorders and 4% have anxiety disorders. There are many factors that fuel the development of mental health issues, which can affect the person’s daily functioning as well as cause them impairing distress. A person’s upbringing, parenting, interaction with others and their immediate environment can all influence their roles and responsibilities in society.
Insensitive media coverage of sensitive issues like suicides and rape, competitive pressures to do well on exams or secure important jobs, divine and hateful narratives on the social media have all been on the rise of late. We shouldn’t be surprised if the entire society is affected by these forces. The COVID-19 pandemic have been added on as an additional stressor. The purpose of promoting mental health is not the same as treating mental illness. We need to create awareness about the mental health to help people understand that mental illness and mental health are different. This way we can understand separate implications of mental health and mental illness avoiding misconceptions, miscommunications and ultimately reduce the stigma attached to mental illness.
During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, most people paid more attention than usual to improve their physical health and develop their immune system. However, there were few measures and little awareness about the mental well-being. Exhortations to the people to pay attention to their physical health should, in parallel, have been accompanied by messages about strengthening the mental health of individuals as well as society as a whole. As the saying goes, physical health adds years to your life, whereas mental health adds life to those years.
Promoting mental health is not a single-day program and it can’t be led by a single or few health clinics. Good mental health is achieved with the help of good parenting, good education, economic awareness, encouraging independence and social and gender equality and liberty. Responsibility, concern, commitment and moral values should be taught as early as possible, both within and outside the academic system. We are already seeing the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on people’s mental well-being and this just the beginning. We need to make serious commitments to scale up investment in mental health right now and find innovative ways to create initiatives to strengthen psychological support for people.
In all, the COVID-19 pandemic should be taken as a wake-up call to address these deficiencies. It has never been more important than now to recognize that mental health is an essential component to one’s overall health and well-being and that mental illness are common and treatable. It’s now or never. If you are vulnerable, you inspire others to be vulnerable in return. Pay attention to anything that triggers you and seek help. This year, due to pandemic, many of us have lost our loved ones untimely and shockingly, but also this year, we learnt how to appreciate small things in life, prioritizing our relationships with family and friends, the importance of health and wellness, we re-connected with old friends, lived our passion and hobby again, we learnt how we really don’t need to spend as much as we usually do to have a happy and fulfilling lifestyle but more importantly, this pandemic taught us that, “We need to slow down”. Let’s slow down and live one day at a time. We all know life is short; let’s wake up from this and try to really enjoy life and make every moment count.