Ahh! Another story on mental health and the scenario in India.
I know!! This might seem repetitive to you and you must have read plenty of articles and stories around what we should and shouldn’t do to improve the landscape of mental health in India.
But have you thought of why is this still the same when everyone already knows what to do?
That is because there is a lack of accountability on the part of the different systems and population as a whole. This diffusion of responsibility hides in plain sight. You would find people experiencing and silently enduring depression, anxiety, burnout, etc. and not reaching out for help fearing the judgement from society or the inaccessibility of proper mental health care services.
Think about it..
Do you think that getting dependable health care service is a task?
What about reaching out for Mental Health care services?
Have you struggled to find a mental health professional?
If you answered yes to the questions above, I think we can say that, Yes, India struggles to address Mental health.
For most people in India, getting help for mental health concerns is not easy or for some, not even an option. There are several layers which interact at different levels, restricting people from reaching out and leaving an impact on their mental wellbeing. Beginning from the mere lack of awareness & literacy about mental health at the roots, to the constant stigma and discrimination around expressing and talking about mental health.
More than mental health and wellbeing, India is concerned about Log kya kahenge? (What will people say?). Meanwhile, as we care about what will people say, we have missed out on having the most necessary conversations around mental health in different spaces that we are a part of. This issue of mental health related societal stigma has, over the years, conditioned and negatively impacted help seeking behaviour by people.
To understand the mental health struggle and structure in India, it is imperative to dig a little deeper and identify how Mental Health has become political, it has also branched from the systemic roots of the country.
Political System - Historically, India has not paid much attention to healthcare services, let alone mental health care services. Recall any election or rally or even political campaigns, no one has mental health as their agenda, despite the numbers in research showing otherwise. Even in parliament discussions, the point of mental health comes last and is left at only talk, no action. Moreover, the policies and legislations for mental health have only been updated recently with the Mental Healthcare Act, which in itself has its own drawbacks and fails to represent a large chunk of the Indian population. The carelessness towards mental health issues within the political system translates into others, creating a major structural detriment, which also reflects how the budget is allocated each year with minimal expenditure on healthcare and imagine that of mental healthcare. One of the major reasons for the wide gap in adequacy of resources exists in infrastructure as well as in human resources.
Social/Community System - What forms the society? The people. And yet, it has become difficult to get through to people and help them realise the sheer need to address the mental health situation in India. Society's response to mental health concerns has been a defining factor as to how we think and perceive people affected with such issues. The way our families, friends and culture comprehend mental health related concerns, influences how we as individuals shape our values, attitudes and thoughts around the same. You must have heard your parents say “Feeling low? It is nothing, get up in the morning and go for a walk, you will feel refreshed throughout the day”, while that is a good practice to follow, it might not be the best solution you would want to hear while going through mental health challenges.
Educational System - Schools and educational institutions are one of the basic pillars of growth, awareness and learning for individuals. Nevertheless, there are few schools that pay heed to the idea of mental health, whether it is having psychoeducation sessions, life skills classes or even having a School Counselor. We have seen how school counselors could replace anyone in administration, could take substitute classes and in some cases, even teach psychology. Mental health and it’s practitioners have not been given the place in the educational system that would have been revolutionary in shaping the perception of young minds towards mental health.
Corporate System - How do you ask for leaves at work? Do you often find yourself excusing the reason of being unwell “physically” even though you just feel like taking a break or are feeling exhausted? This shows the gap when it comes to spreading awareness and actually implementing what you preach. Many companies hold seminars, workshops and support groups, even encourage their employees to seek help when required, I am sure, yours might too. But what about making quality check-ins with employees and being aware of what is going on with them. There is a need for the corporate sector to stop glamorizing the Hustle culture and letting people feel okay while saying “Hello! I will be on leave today. I am feeling exhausted so I just need to clear my head and rejuvenate myself with some time off”.
Legal System - While India has the Mental Healthcare Act in place, still the implementation seems far from being in spaces. The gap that broadens by the day where the legal system falls short in recognising the utter need to build more inclusive policies, taking into consideration the populations in the margins, religious minorities, LGBTQIA++ population and people being in the weaker socio-economic strata. The absolute urgency to address mental health as a need for all and making it more accessible, affordable and available to the people in India through helpful insurance policies too.
Media - Media is a wonderful tool to aware and psychoeducate people on a larger level if done carefully. Despite that, stigma and discrimination continue to be the negative consequences of mass ignorance and the spread of misinformation. The mass forwarded messages and incomplete information does more harm than good. The recent incident of influencers claiming to take therapy/listening sessions without any credibility or qualification for the role, and charging huge amounts of money, portray how there exists a flip side in the media. The whole Good Vibes Only culture negates different emotions and expects people to feel just positive that is misinforming.
Be careful to consume content mindfully, look for more reliable information and know that even though there is good content, it is not a substitute for therapy.
The plight of the Mental Healthcare practitioners
And yet, the systemic problems reach far beyond this, when it misses to talk about the wellbeing of the mental healthcare practitioners and the ridiculous disproportion of practitioners to the population. The daily exhaustion and burnout rate among these professionals rises and still nothing that could curb it.
As we now know, that most of the earlier strategies to address mental health have fallen flat over the past years, it is time to adopt a new approach with renewed vigor. An attempt towards progressive government policies, mindful & sensitive media, inclusive educational system, a responsive industry, proper use of newer technologies and appropriate training & wellness measures for the mental health care practitioners could together deplete India’s struggle to not only address but also begin with action towards mental wellness.
Written By- Shaivee Narula
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