Judge(mental) Health of Indians

As a teen, Rohan had endless questions in his mind which he was shy to ask his parents. Most of them were about sexual needs, relationships, menstruation, stereotypical behavior of men and women, expectations of society from an individual. But before Rohan could understand or process his curiosity and needs he was thrown into a rat-race. All he knew was he had to be academically good. Always. No matter what. There were times when he felt emotionally exhausted but he ignored it and continued studying because he thought that this was what being strong meant. Not budging despite feeling bitter within. And somehow started believing having a good career was the ultimatum to a happy life. Little did he know, by a “happy life” his parents and teachers were emphasizing only the financial aspect of life. Rohan grew up to become an excellent software engineer and earned good money yet he felt incomplete, couldn’t sleep at night, and felt low frequently. He wondered what this feeling of an invisible void inside of him that never seems to fill actually is. He wondered what a fulfilling life must be.

          If seen on a global scale, India still is a lower middle income country. As per a study, one in every 7 Indians suffers from mental illness, mild or severe. Estimates say that roughly 8,00,000 people die by suicide every year, with one death being reported every 40 seconds. These numbers are evident how a massive need of mental health treatment remains unaddressed. In India, suicide is said to be the most common cause of death in the age group of 15–29 years. Individuals in this age-group are in a phase where an individual undergoes transition from being a student to becoming an adult trying to build a career of his/her. Being unable to withstand this stress is an indication that somewhere we’re falling short to educate the individual to have a work/life balance at the same time building and sustaining a family of their own.

             Most common factors resulting in poor mental health of Indian youngsters is unemployment, discontent, cut-throat competition due to population explosion, inadequate opportunities for grooming oneself in desired field, financial expectations of parents, partners or children, poor quality of life, peer pressure, loneliness, lack of love life, dysfunctional families, insecurity about future.  Mental illnesses in older adults may result into disputes in marriage, toxic relationships with partners leading to divorce/ break ups. It may even have adverse impression on mental health of children in the family.

            The mind tends to cope up with constant sadness using different defence mechanisms. It tries to relieve the pain by crying or shifting its focus to stress-buster activities in order to feel better. For eg. Listening to music, painting, dancing, meeting friends, etc. Lack of sleep, eating disorders as well as oversleeping, overeating, nausea, anxiety, frequent emotional breakdowns, lack of concentration are some impacts of poor mental health. The mentally ill mind if left unhealed for a long time may even try to cope up using alcohol or drugs for delusional temporary happiness.

            It is often observed that extremely traumatic childhood is the very root of a criminal mind-set. There’s a high possibility of victims of traumatic childhood to become terrorists, rapist, traffickers, gangsters in case their mental illnesses remains untreated or fail to cope up on their own. Offending rates in India are highest in the late teens and early twenties and decline thereafter. People in the 15–24 age range account for about 40 percent of all arrests even though they comprise only about 14 per cent of the population. The impulse of a criminal mind is so strong that offensive actions seem to give them a false sense of authority over their own or victim’s life.

             Failing to cope up with extreme trauma, mentally ill patients begin feeling suicidal or even commit suicide. However, mental illness is completely curable under supervision and medication from mental health professionals. It is observed that most patients are at a primary stage of mental illnesses and psychiatrists & psychologists can heal them by counselling alone. However, the intensity of the illness is not something the patients or their family members to guess. It is very important to get a clinical diagnosis from a mental health professional. Though your problems might seem less important than others you know, if you even feel slightest need, get it diagnosed. Getting it checked does no harm.

            In India, there is a huge gap in number of people facing mental health issues and number of people treated. As per WHO, mental health workforce in India (per 100,000 population) include psychiatrists (0.3), nurses (0.12), psychologists (0.07) and social workers (0.07).  Also, lack of knowledge about the mental illnesses poses a challenge to the mental health care delivery system. Affordability and funding for the treatment is also one major factor why mentally unfit persons hesitate to seek therapy. Government should raise funds for subsidised treatments and initiate awareness programmes. Expenses of therapy should be reasonable for people from all income groups and not be a luxury only for the rich few.

              Misconception and stigma that prevails in our society when we hear or speak of the term “mental” is unfortunate. Most of us grew up using the word “mental” for (most of the times jokingly) calling someone mentally retarded. As soon as we hear about someone seeking medical help for mental illnesses, some of us gossip about it or even tell people so and so person is mentally retarded or simply spread rumours about her him being “mad” or “mental”, unfit for marriage and intentionally isolate them. Such is the ignorance of Indian society towards mental health. How difficult is it for us to understand that not all mental health issues don’t mean being “mentally retarded”? How insensitive is it to use such strong words for someone who is trying to help oneself and improve his/her life? Why is it shameful for Indian families to have someone from the family seek counselling for mental health? Is it so that the numbers of mentally ill people in India have become so much that we have normalised mental health issues and think it is okay to leave them unattended? Is it not high time we wipe out the belief that “Therapy is for Americans or Western World”? Is it not high time to protect the youth of our country?

               It is important that the perspective of society towards a mentally ill person changes. Schools can indeed play a significant role in doing so. Schools should consider educating children and parents about mental health as one of their prime responsibilities. School and college students should not only have easy and free access to mental health experts but institutions should also put an effort in educating them to understand themselves and their constantly changing physical, emotional, intellectual needs. Schools and colleges should focus on holistic development of a child. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, sports, current affairs, economics, finance management should be introduced for all-round progress of a child. The goal of an education system must be to prepare an individual for his/her life and not just to become specialists or professionals in any one specific field leaving out the other survival essential habits for him/her to inculcate on their own.  As people, if we know someone who is mentally ill, the least we can do is be kind. Be sensitive and refrain from spreading rumours or being part of gossips about anybody’s personal lives.

        Indeed, there’s no life without struggle but nobody deserves to live with pain for a lifetime. A mentally sound mind is one’s basic need, it should not seem like a privilege!

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