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Mental Health in India: A problem long overdue its stay

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By Aakansha Punetha

The year 2020 played with our mental and physical health. The sudden changes were increasingly onerous for a larger population, but they also paved the way for talks about mental health in public.

The COVID-19 pandemic made its initial impact in March 2020 and has continued to cause havoc ever since. Millions of people were forced to shut themselves in and quarantine either with their families or alone. While many found this as an opportunity to re-engage in some long-lost hobbies and spend quality time with their loved ones, others had a different experience. A 19-year-old student from Pune, who spoke under anonymity, says that the year has been a roller coaster ride. The isolation and restriction from going outdoors were initially punishing and were large contributing factors to this. The spike in suicide rates, the increasing infection rate of the virus, the loss of jobs, and the unplanned extension of the lockdown caused a lot of mental problems and because of this, anxiety, depression and existential crisis have become some of the most common terms people have heard this year.

The unfortunate passing of a famous actor and its news coverage threw a light and created a space for families to talk about mental health. Because of this, people did gain some understanding of mental health. Unfortunately, it is only surface level and because of that, there’s a lot of room for prejudice.

India lacks a perspective about mental health; people talk about being physically fit and not mentally fit, says Vaani Duggal, a 22-year-old personal coach and therapist. She adds, “If people have a fever they go to a doctor for medicine, but this isn’t the scenario in case of mental illness. Depression and anxiety are considered taboos that must not be discussed openly”. Vaani also creates content on topics related to mental health on her Instagram and YouTube channel by the name, The Spiritual She Wolf. The more people talk about their problems and empathize with each other, the easier it will be to spread the word to bigger masses. General discussions in families, educational institutions, social media, or even a group of friends can be of great benefit in creating an inclusive environment for everyone.

However, one must not forget that everyone’s level of understanding regarding mental health is not the same. “My parents will agree to the statement that mental health is just as important as physical health, but it’s just a bunch of talking points they’re agreeing to. It’s always been difficult for me to share with my parents because, at a general level, they’re a very different generation, raised under a system that has always taught them to ignore mental health”, says another student who is eager for colleges to reopen.

There are many misconceptions due to the lack of knowledge about mental health. One of them is the age factor. Youngsters are too naive to have depression, and elderly people are generally depressed because they want to be cranky and not understanding, are just a few of the many myths which are not at all true. Anuradha Harkare, a freelance counsellor and mental health advocate, also makes content related to Mental Health in Marathi for her YouTube channel- Psychology Sundays. She says, “These are all misconceptions and preconceived notions regarding mental illness. There exists no such age factor when it comes to having depression”. It can happen to anyone at any time, regardless of age and external factors, she adds. People throw around the term ‘depressed’ lightly when in reality, these two could not be more different. Everyone experiences things that leave a deep impact on them, but they do eventually recover from it. This phase of being sad must not be confused with having depression. Depression is a series of patterns that lead to a deteriorating state of mind. It has a constant effect on your lifestyle and personal well-being for a long period. It must be treated clinically and under professional guidance. In India, for a population of 138 crores, there are only 0.29 psychiatrists per 100,000 people which is much lower than 3 per 100,000 (as prescribed by data taken in 2017) by the World Health Organization.

These statistics make it evident that it’s a long journey that requires an ample amount of time and effort to be invested by everyone to bridge the gap between misconceptions and an ideal nation of inclusivity. There are plenty of things that could be and must be done to reach the goal. But first, let’s just start with the basics. So for now, let’s talk?

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