Why Don’t We Care About India’s Mental Health Crisis That Affects 97 Million People?

 

Our writer, Soumyajyoti Bhattacharya‘s article on LonePack‘s latest campaign got featured in Youth Ki Awaaz. We are reproducing the article here. Do give it a read. The original link is posted in the comments.

“As I sit in my room on a particularly dark afternoon, life seems all but a melancholic drone of has been’s and would be’s, mechanically wheezing into a nightmarish scenario where shadows are friends and humans seem unfriendly. The clock ticks like it is the harbinger of my doomsday, my mind screams, wanting everything to stop! Gears slip into motion, my monsters crawl out of my own mind and sing me the most painful soliloquy. My life squishes like a squandered set of useless paraphernalia while my mind keeps telling me to just not do it anymore.”

This is not an excerpt from a Stephen King novel, albeit it may be very scary. It is the rant of a mind suffering from anxiety, one of the many mental health illnesses plaguing the human population. Sadly, most people do not care.

report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

Yet, major sovereign states have failed to provide justifiable legislation for the same, or have refused to put enough stress on it. To provide a particular example, let’s take India, the country of my birth and the subject of my patriotism. India is a nation of 1.34 billion people, constituting the world’s largest youth population and second largest population overall.

Image Credit: MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images

Statistical reports from the WHO show us that almost 7.5% of the population of India suffers from mental health disorders, with the number growing by the passing day.

These disorders constitute depression, anxiety, hypertension, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), to name a few.

People suffering from such disorders require expert intervention and regular treatment for improvement, so as to ensure that a large part of the global population is not only physically fit, but mentally as well. However, a particular case study will show that might not be the case.

Mental health treatment institutions in India are mostly three-fold: private high-end facilities, government facilities and religious facilities. While the first case scenario is only for an elite segment of the population, it is mostly the other two which most people can avail.

However, India is facing a mental health crisis. With only 43 government-run mental hospitals serving a population of 1.3 billion, resources are spread thin. Moreover, mental illness is highly stigmatised in India, especially among women, who are typically committed to mental health facilities with no legal rights, and receive involuntary treatment sometimes without a proper diagnosis.

The worst-case scenario are religious institutions and independent cult leaders who proceed to treat mental health illness on their own with confounding, unscientific practices including the likes of black magic and sacrificial rituals.

Yet, however unsatisfactory the medical practices surrounding mental health or the interest shown in it from a professional aid perspective may be, the worst problem for mental health illness is social stigma.

Stigma is officially defined as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. Mental health issues have often been deemed weak and disgraceful, a mark of wasteful elitism and a rotten excuse by people in human civilisation since time immemorial.

Because of this, a huge number of people still go on to ask a depressed person to just “forget it and move on”, call someone with ADHD or similar issues to be making excuses or being ‘elitist’ and ‘wasteful’, and not to forget, pin any behaviour deviating from the norm upon one strategic word, ‘madness’. Like a disease, not one which needs to be treated, but one which is disgraceful and needs to be exterminated.

When such levels of stigma exist as norms in the human society for centuries, people suffering from mental health illnesses hesitate to acknowledge their issues and seek public help for fear of having no personal comfort, and for being ostracised with mean, dispirited comments, along the lines of ‘weak’, ‘disgraceful’ and ‘loser’, to name just a few.

Corporate policies surrounding mental health illnesses are far too few, recognition of the same as a legitimate health concern is astoundingly low, even for educated individuals, and social acceptance for mental health illnesses are catastrophic. All of this does not cut a pretty picture for something we should definitely not be ignoring or castigating.

Of course, not everything is bleak. Many developed nations have constitutional laws and legislative precedence for acceptance of mental health issues and protection of those suffering from related causes. Developing countries are following suit, with India having recently passed a law to decriminalize suicide attempts and provide better healthcare for patients of mental health disorders.

Yet, until a higher number of facilities are provided at a sovereign level, and the social stigma surrounding the same is not shattered, progress, however promising, will seem unconvincing.

Sovereign improvements require better political philosophy, a discussion beyond the mandate of this article. However, no amount of legal or political support will matter till social acceptance for these issues do not improve, a conundrum which requires more education about the same, grassroots movements and an altogether improved level of awareness, thus leading to amicable acceptances.

Although this does seem a long way off, many local non-profits and popular public personalities have taken up this cause and have launched a crusade to improve circumstances surrounding it.

One particular initiative I absolutely love and am involved with is ‘Lonepack’. As a small, up and coming non-profit organisation based in India, we have been fighting the stigma surrounding mental health for over a year now through multiple campaigns.

Our latest campaign, ‘Save The Whale‘ challenge, is an attempt to increase positivity over the internet and provide a challenge to the despicable ‘Blue Whale‘ game. Many other organisations exist who engage in similar work.

However, it cannot just be institutions fighting the good fight, it has to be everyone. Only then will this crusade actually mean something and be successful in making a difference.

Maybe there is a future better than the situation we are in today, but that will never be possible without enough awareness. Next time you meet someone suffering from a mental health disorder, do not attempt to jeer or advice. Reach out a hand and be there for them with nothing but silent support.

Let us make this world a better and more acceptable place, one person at a time. Till then, all we have is hope. Surely, we can do better than that?

  • Soumyajyoti Bhattacharya

For a Friend

What goes through people when they decide to take their own lives ? I would never know….. I have never been there. I would never want to either. But I know something else. Grief. Grief of losing someone you cared about. Grief of losing someone you wish you knew better. Grief of losing someone you wish you had spoken with one last time before there was no more time left. Grief of losing the joyful soul of a friend untimely to the perilous hands of death. Death by suicide.

Gourab was a jolly young man. I remember my initial impression of him as the guy on whom was attached the stigma of having an year back in school. However, I would want him to be remembered for anything but that now. He not only overturned his educational problems by working hard during the time I knew him, but also always did it with a smile. A smile which made me happy. Made probably everyone he knew happy. Little did we know the happiness was hiding something far more painful than anything we could even fathom. Gourab wasn’t the first friend I had lost in my school life. I had lost another friend named Soumyadeep to leukaemia. However, this was different. And far more painful. I do not know if any philosopher has made any analogy to link age with emotional distress and pain; however, I know it for a fact that an analogy is not too far off. Or it was just the fact that Gourab’s suicide was out of the blue. Shock has that lingering memory which claws at you, asking you how things could be different. Was I close to him ? I do not know about others, but from where I am from, you do not study in a class for two of the toughest of your adolescent years and not be close. From analysing our favorite club Manchester United together to the time spent playing football after school, from playing hand cricket all through boring Chemistry hours to meeting up and discussing movies at uninteresting tuitions, he had been a quintessential friend during those years. Moving to SRM did bring a heavy toll on my social life with my friends back in Kolkata, for in trying to settle in within a culture shock and catching upto engineering I had been guilty of ignoring the people I loved the most. And that included Gourab. Two years of studying engineering passed by in a breeze, I settled down in my new life and with new friends, till a friend called me up on that fateful day to tell me Gourab had committed suicide. I would be lying if I say I ever expected something remotely similar to happen. I didn’t really know what to do. I was not shocked, not sad…..I felt nothing. I attended class as usual. Went about my day….till it was lunch break and a friend expressed gratitude for me sharing my food with him. That is when it hit me. The abyss of having lost a friend. The feelings reverberated in me till I could hold it no more. I cried. Long and hard. I didn’t know why, or what even really brought this, I just did. Gourab’s death brought me sadness. Sadness which passed but for moments of passing grief on specific days of the year. His death brought me misery which accompanies the shocking misery associated with losing loved ones. Even that passed. What didn’t pass was regret. Suicide is not accidental or biological, it is the result of constant crippling psychological trauma. And I could have been a better friend, maybe even tried to find out if everything was okay. All those busy school fests, I could have taken an evening out to call a dear friend and ask him if he was doing fine. Catch up on our shared anger at Moyes’s mishandling of ManUtd. Tell him how engineering is sapping the life out of both of us. Tell him, “Chill, It’s a burden we both are sharing, and it’s a burden we can split between us”. Explain to him by telling that ” Don’t go friend, this world is tough, and one less friend is one less shoulder to cry on when the going gets tough.” Maybe even offer my shoulder for him to vent his grief out on. Like a brother. But why would I ? Gourab was always happy, and psychological stress is hardly a problem. Till this world’s refusal to see a problem for what it is was too late, my blindness to a friend’s misery was perpetrated to an extent where it didn’t see through a facade. And when the facade fell, so did a dear friend.

Gourab is no mere friend, brother, son lost to suicide. He is one of many martyrs, who have cleared the clout in our minds surrounding mental stress and psychological illness. I will never commit suicide, and I ensure I checkup on everyone I love, telling them that they are loved, ensuring that they know they have some place to go to in order to vent, not lose it all in inevitable death. Suicide is as real a threat as HIV or Zika, but my friend taught me it can be fought……together. I loved him like a brother, and wish his soul peace. More importantly, I wish him gratitude. He left me a life where I knew that nothing could be more important that people close to you, and they could have demons like you, but far more terrifying. I will be there for them. I am sorry I couldn’t be there once. That is my demon, and I am fighting it. This is not an eulogy, it is a letter acknowledging something I have never done. Dear friend, thank you for being there, thank you in life and in death, and thank you for leaving me with a wonderful touch of perspective. And know, I miss knowing that every night I go to sleep, you are safe in some part of the globe. Goodbye dear friend. I promise I will not let what you taught me in life and in death go to waste. I promise.

– Soumyajyoti Bhattacharya

Image Credits : Google Images

Is being OCD=Perfectionist?

We all wish to be perfect and do our work well. To this aim, we utilise some skills that enable us to channelize our behaviours so that we don’t spend too much time on doing routine chores – e.g. keeping the keys, wallet, shoes etc in the same place everyday, trying to leave work the same time each day to beat the traffic and so on. These things we learn as a result of our experiences and sometimes the difficulties we face. Persons who we call perfectionists invariably have a reasonably good “error checking” system in place and thus, are able to use the above mentioned skills to their benefit. The easiest example to consider would be the character Wasabi from the movie Big Hero 6 who would quote – “a place for everything and everything in its place”.

But, just imagine a scenario where the above skills go haywire and then we have people focusing on the trivial details with an inability to stop the process of error checking. This is not based on any prior learning or a misinterpretation of prior learning taken to absurd levels. Then we have people who are unable to control their impulse to make sure that things (even trivial ones) are placed “exactly right”, doing things over and over (whether it be checking, counting, cleaning or whatever) to “just to be sure”, having illogical/ magical beliefs and so on. This would intrude on their daily functioning and would impair their ability to do the most basic things with any efficiency. This would be OCD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Obsessions could be anything – a thought, an image, an impulse to do something.

One common feature of obsessions include the fact that at some level, the person having them identifies them as illogical, unnecessary, excessive, intrusive and distressing.

Compulsions are any behaviour(s) aimed at reducing the anxiety that is created by the obsessions. They could be things like doing things a particular way, or doing it repeatedly, or a particular number of times.

Its important to recognise that there are people who are obsessive about certain things and that makes them who they are but, this is different from people with OCD who dislike this part of themselves that prevents them from living a full and happy life.

-Dr. Shiva Prakash

Clique management for Dummies

Remember that scene from Kung Fu Panda where Po struggles to make friends with the Furious Five and receive reactions ranging from awkwardness to hostility? Like:

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Does this seem to be relatable to you? Seem to strike a chord somewhere? Remember when you are about to express yourself on some topic amongst your friends only to receive dismissive comments, change of topic or weird silence ( especially in whatsapp groups) almost every time?(Disclaimer: I mean the seemingly mundane topics). Or you feel emotionally drained out when hanging out with them, conforming to some unspoken rules which you secretly hate but don’t disclose for fear of being judged? Or find yourself pandering to the wishes of the queen bee(in simple words, the most dominating person in the group)?  Welcome to the clique phenomenon.

Due to the need to be approved, liked or to avoid being lonely, people unwittingly join such groups.

While this word seems to be lifted off from an American high school sitcom, the phenomenon exists everywhere, across all age groups. People in the age group of 12-20( in some cases, younger) are adversely affected by this, which saps their confidence and self-esteem resulting in anxiety. Due to the need to be approved, liked or to avoid being lonely, people unwittingly join such groups. Though it may be fun at first, if the person happens to have any of the qualities that intimidate the queen bee’s position, then that person becomes the target. While guy’s cliques aren’t that overt with targets, girls or mixed cliques overtly ignore them during planning, subtly criticize whatever the target does and ensure that the target isn’t really  the person they once were. And unlike Po’s case where he eventually becomes a part of the Furious Five( hey, they weren’t bad people..) you can’t expect wonders to happen.

Read a brutally honest post here on how it feels to be excluded and treated like a third wheel:   Story of my Life

Cliques, are especially detrimental during school and college life. When you need to be enjoying and building your career , you seem to be perennially stuck in abyss instead, not able to do the things you love. Isn’t that terrible? With increasing peer pressure, it isn’t really surprising that many adolescents and college goers suffer from crippling anxiety which can spiral into something worse, like losing your individuality.

Though it isn’t easy (or desirable) to leave a clique abruptly, especially if you have some good friends who are stuck like you, here are some steps to help you deal with cliques:

  • Engage yourself in some activity that you love. Join clubs and get yourself engrossed in the activities. Joining multiple clubs does involve a lot of time management. If you’re not that okay with balancing a lot of activities, especially when you have a lot of academic workload, it’s absolutely okay to restrict yourself to a couple of clubs. When you get to do something that you love, you’ll be so engrossed in it that you wouldn’t be bothered about the outing that the clique has specifically excluded you from. Also, chances are high that you’d find your best buddies in the club. When you do an activity you love with other people who also love it, isn’t that the best thing you can afford to have?
  • Also, if you find yourself being mocked by the members for some specific characteristic of yours, muster all the will-power you have, give them a grin and shrug your shoulders. Don’t ever change yourself. For example, when the queen bee taunts you for submitting your assignment early, chances are high that the person would’ve submitted the assignment much before you would’ve (no jokes). Repeat the grin and shrug every time, the clique will get tired of you( Disclaimer: This point is not applicable to well-meaning advice)
  • Learn to say ‘NO’. That’s the toughest thing to do but you should learn to refuse and disagree on some issues assertively(aggression never works). You’ll receive a lot of emotional blackmail into doing something you’ve never liked but listen to your conscience and trust you gut. They’ll never fail you.
  • If you’re still feeling the brunt , talk it out with a person you trust. It could be a parent or an older sibling or an older cousin. Only when you open up, will you realize that there are people who actually care for you.

Friendships enable you to grow, not cliques.

While these steps cannot show results in a short period of time ,with patience and persistence, you’ll surely grow out of it. So, instead of focusing on what the clique was thinking/will think of you, remember Master Ogway’s words:

 

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-Pooja C

Image credits: Google

Age Groups Vulnerable to Depression?

Depression is a common problem throughout an individual’s lifespan. Statistics suggest that about one in 20 individuals would have suffered depression at some point of time in their life. But this data is not representative of all individuals. There are some common risk factors that increase the risk of having depression. One of the most common risk factors is experiencing interpersonal violence in any form. This may be

  • physical and emotional abuse and neglect in childhood,
  • bullying during school ,
  • social ostracism in teenage and college,
  • domestic and workplace related violence of any sort in middle and older adulthood.

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Other common risk factors include academic difficulties, physical illnesses, loss of significant relationships, financial difficulties, family history of depression and social isolation.

Typically, people in the age group of 40-60 years have the highest rates of depression possibly due to accumulation of stress over their lifespan. The risk of attempting suicide is higher in teenagers and young adults especially in situations of acute crisis while the risk of committing suicide is much higher in the elderly.

Over 60% of the calls to suicide help hotlines are made by people in the age group of 35-54

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Therefore, rather than asking if certain age groups are predisposed to depression, it would be more helpful to think in terms of “Are certain groups of individuals facing various life events more likely to develop depression?”  An important thing to keep in mind is that all these are risk factors and not causative for depression. Ideally this information should be used in the context of helping individuals in various life situations that may predispose them to depression.

Once again, it is important to realize that not all those who face the situations mentioned above suffer depression. Also not all those who suffer depression face these issues.

The most important thing to remember is to try and have a non-judgmental outlook and to offer our support to those going through a tough time.

-Dr.Shiva Prakash

Image Credits: Google