Along with COVID-19, there's another health crisis that's been brewing in India for a while. It has even been called a potential public health epidemic – I'm talking about India's mental health burden.
The pandemic and the lockdown have already created a deep impact on mental health, but recently, there has been a surge of insensitivity and unkindness on display towards mental health.
The dismal media coverage of late actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide has been called out for its inaccuracies in portraying mental illnesses and people who live with them.
The need for kindness and understanding for those living with mental health issues, their family and loved ones; the need for kindness towards each other in tough times; and the need for kindness towards yourself cannot be overstated.
FIT spoke to a veritable panel of experts to find out more: Dr Kamna Chhibber, Clinical Psychologist, Head, Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences at Fortis Healthcare, Sandhya Menon, a #Metooactivist, journalist, mom with BDP and suicide survivor and Jyotsana Siddharth an activist, artist, writer, India Lead for Gender At Work, founder of Project Anti Caste Love (2018) and Dalit Feminism Archive (2019).
“The uncertainty of this time, with COVID-19 and the lockdown, has forced many people to deal with a lot of anxiety and has brought up many issues that people need to deal with. I would say that we are getting caught in the past and future and feeling uncertain – my advice is to be grounded in the present as far as possible.”Dr Kamna Chhibber
The Media & Mental Health
We have been talking about mental health a lot more openly in the lockdown, although a lot of these conversations are still riddled with inaccuracies and insensitivities.
Sandhya added that, “The Sushant Singh Rajput case was our watershed moment, we could have demystified mental health, and removed the stigma on something like bipolar disorder which is not known much, but instead we may have taken the mental health discourse backwards. ”
As a parent, she added that it’s important to talk openly to children about what is happening around them, and really listen. “You will be able to understand their anxieties from the questions they are asking you. Make sure they follow accurate information.”
Jyotsana added that in the increased talk on mental health, it was important to look at the subject intersectionality.
“I hope we begin to have more conversations where we look at mental health in the context of a society which is deeply prejudiced. I can be individually resilient, but how do you deal with the external setbacks in the world right now?”Jyotsana Siddharth
Your identity deeply affects your relationship with your mental health; caste, class, religion, gender and ability among other identities are important factors that affect your access to mental healthcare.
Gender & Mental Health
“There is a lot of unarticulated angst and psychological pain for women right now.”Sandhya Menon
The pandemic has had an outsized impact on women's health – women in lockdown have had to take on additional burdens, and it has increased their workload and stress levels. Sandhya adds that we need to look at this holistically, as women from different sections in society are all struggling and need affordable, accessible help.
“For people already marginalised, this lockdown has amplified their issues,” says Jyotsana.
Self-Care & Mental Health
“For me, what has worked, is taking refuge in my work,” says Jyotsana.
Dr Kamna adds that an essential skill in today’s age is saying no to the news. “Recognise what is triggering you, and try to switch off, I have done this for myself.” She added that having a healthy routine, maintaining sleep and exercise regimes and finding an outlet for creative expression help. Jyotsana added that there was great value in community healing, “Knowing that you are not alone in isolation.”
“Paradoxically,” added Sandhya, “what worked for me was limiting my social interactions and making room for a smaller circle of two people who I really trust.”
Self-care looks different for different people with different needs – but as the conversation progressed, it became clear that the lockdown has made us more cognisant of our thoughts, feelings and mental health.
“I just hope we realise how important mental health is even once the lockdown lifts,”Dr Kamna adds.
(The article was first published in FIT and has been republished with permission)