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Let’s talk about mental health: It’ll help us make healthy life choices

On World Mental Health day, October 10, the Centre for Liberal Arts, Apeejay Stya University, hosted a webinar on ‘Mental Health in an unequal world’

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After much debate and deliberation, the world is finally recognising that mental health is a serious issue and every citizen’s right.

To mark its importance, the Centre for Liberal Arts, Apeejay Stya University (ASU) celebrated World Mental Health day on October 10 by organising a webinar on the theme: ‘Mental Health in an unequal world’.

Prof Sanjay Ahirwal, Dean, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Apeejay Stya University said “Mental Health includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make healthy choices.”

Prof Ahirwal added “Mental Health is important in every stage of life. It is believed that mental illnesses affect 19% of the adult population, 46% of teenagers and 13% of children each year. Yet only half of those receive treatment often because of the stigma attached.”

Speaking about the importance of treatment, Professor Ahirwal stated, “Untreated mental illnesses can contribute to higher medical expenses, poor performance at school or work, fewer employment opportunities and increased risk of suicide. That is why it is so important to discuss mental health.” 

Prof R S Dhankar, Vice Chancellor, ASU gave the inaugural lecture at the webinar. He stated that mental health is a very serious issue since it comes at a great cost of personal life, family, and relationships. Speaking about the importance of a balanced mind, he added: “It is very important that we handle all sorts of people and situations around us and yet not let our body and mind get impacted.  To do this, one must be aware of one’s thought process.”

Speaking about the importance of spirituality and meditation in this regard, Dr Dhankar gave a beautiful insight into the self-help messages that come with the nine days of the Navratri festival. “The first day focuses on anger management, the second day urges all to stop moral judgment, the third day focuses on removing grudges from the heart, the fourth day encompasses a spirit of forgiveness, the fifth day encapsulates a message of acceptance, the sixth day is a promise for unconditional love, the seventh day focuses on overcoming jealousy and guilt, the eighth day includes a spirit of forgiveness, the ninth day gives all a spirit of gratitude and the tenth day spreads a message of abundance in the world for all. This, if practiced with love and compassion towards oneself and others, will surely lead to a healthy and peaceful mind.”

Prof Shridhar Sharma, Emeritus Professor in Psychiatry, National Academy of Medical

Sciences of India and the chief guest of the webinar, said “Mental health care is a part of the total health care programme. People living with mental health challenges just wish to be understood, respected and treated with love and kindness.”

Prof Sharma highlighted that “Lack of investment in mental health is disproportionate to the overall health budget. This contributes to the mental health treatment gap.  Almost 75% of people in low and middle income countries are unable to access mental health services at all.”

 He further added that even global powerhouses like the USA have an uneven distribution of man-power in psychiatrists. As a remedy to the current state of mental health illnesses, Professor Sharma said, “Intervention programmes need a more integrated approach, where community should be the focus and not the individual. Mutual health groups are a good idea, ‘Friends of NIMHANS’ in Bangalore is an example of the same.”

Dr Jayanti Basu, Professor of Applied Psychology at the University of Calcutta, stated that every person as an individual has some resources and some vulnerabilities. “It is these vulnerabilities that come from the structural inequalities in society and this creates an ‘unequal world’. Like, caste, class and religion, gender too has structured inequalities. Anxiety and depression are more common in women while alcoholism is prevalent in men.”  

Dr Deepak Raheja, Director and chief psychiatrist at Hope Care India, said: “There is a tendency in the general population to trivialise mental illnesses. This comes out in the form of other symptoms: psychiatric, somatic or through neurochemical imbalances. The way we have a concept of dental hygiene and physical hygiene, we must propagate the concept of mental hygiene. This would prevent many psychiatric morbidities. It will not only lead to social well-being but will reduce the load on the few licensed mental health practitioners.”

Dr. Leister Sam Sudheer Manickam, Director -Wellness and Mental Health, Triquetra Healthcare and Technology, Bengaluru spoke on the role of technology in mental health illnesses. He said: “In one way technology is helping us but it has its demerits as well. We are able to connect with patients in rural areas through mobiles. Mobile phones and laptops also help people who could not access the services of a professional due to time constraints or stigma. During the pandemic, patients contacted psychologists virtually. However in the work from home situation, one observes many challenges as well, such as lack of balance between work and domestic space and responsibilities. This creates an environment of anxiety.”

Dr. S.P.K. Jena, Professor of Applied Psychology, and In-Charge, Mental Health Counseling Services, University of Delhi said many students who kept contacting them during the pandemic had underlying mental health problems that went unnoticed for long.  “Mental health programmes must be held in the university campus, so that the students can seek timely help.”

Highlighting the need for a different approach Dr Jena exclaimed “Psychologists must not practice an armchair approach telling the dos and don’ts. I worked in Kolkata in the slums to develop mental health services, trained the community. As professionals of mental health, students or even as a lay person, we all must strive to bring people out of the poverty trap by providing them with essential skills. In my university, we started having an entrepreneurship programme for people below the poverty line. Skill training is a must in the world of inequality. This will also help in the field of mental health in the long run. Empowerment is the last word in a world full of inequality. If people are literate, they can understand themselves better. They will act as crusaders and not wait upon us mental health professionals to save them.”

 Dr. Sunil Mittal, Director Asia Pacific and Vice President of World Foundation for Mental Health, speaking on the impact of social media on mental health, said “One needs to be careful in navigating the virtual world. People have a huge number of Facebook friends and likes but still they are lonely and without real relationships.  This is a predicament of modern time; to be connected yet still not connected. A phone call or chat on social media is not a substitute for a personal meeting. The virtual world can be very isolating at times.  One faces behaviour addiction too, getting glued to the internet, social media or gadgets which interfere with daily functioning.”

Dr Mittal added “Our survey in the pre-pandemic times covered 2.7 million people. 51% of whom did not have any access to mental health services.  Thus accessibility is the key root of inequality.  Equity should be the solution. Services should be equitable, not just giving equal access.  A daily wager might not be able to access a mental health hospital that operates between 9 am-5 pm. Somebody with a financial crisis might not be able to afford the services of a psychologist.”

Concluding his talk, Dr Mittal said “Mental health, I am convinced, is an integral part of the social development process. Media, university systems and everyone must talk about it. Our Constitution guarantees the Right to life and liberty i.e. Article 21, this also includes mental health care.”

Arijit Roy is a trainee correspondent at Apeejay newsroom. He has done his masters in English literature from Delhi University and has a book of poems published by Writers Workshop India. He can be reached at [email protected]

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