Mental Health in the Times of Protest

Mental Health in the Times of Protest

6 min read
Mental Health in the Times of Protest

For the past week, India has seen a nation-wide eruption of student protests and subsequent police action surrounding the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and NRC (National Register of Citizens).

Stories of violence, tear gassing, and even sexual assault are everywhere, with news reports of Internet and mobile phone service shutdowns, even in the capital, spreading. There's anger, hopelessness, frustration and fatigue all at once.

When there’s a rising movement on socio-political lines, emotions run high and run out fast too. There’s fear of a growing listlessness, and many people have turned off the barrage of disturbing news for break.

Fawzia, a 24-year old professional (who requested her last name not be used) tells FIT, “I’ve been really scared, spent a whole day actually just feeling not okay, not being able to look away from the news, and honestly it just felt like my future - basic things like getting married and having children, was snatched away from me. Potentially still might get taken away. It’s just not something I expected to face when I imagined being 24 years old.”

Watching images of trauma or participating in protests day after day is mentally exhausting, so how do we cope? How do people ensure that there is no burn out, and that in the midst of the chaos, your mental health is maintained?

Deshdeep Dhankar, a DU student and activist, has an answer - connect mental health experts to the people, free of cost.

“I saw images of the girls from Jamia Millia leaving to return home, and it broke my heart. I was so exhausted and hurt, but I decided to do something. It took 2 days of constant following up, but I compiled a list of counselors and psychiatrists who would work pro-bono with people affected.”

On the list are about 20 counselors, psychologists, psychotherapists.

But why was the need for this now?

The Personal is the Political: Why Counselors are Volunteering Time

Politics is for the people, and so of course, political unrest causes some sort of instability in our lives. This naturally creates mental distress as well.

“Mental health concerns do not take place in a vacuum,” adds Farah Maneckshaw, a psychology masters student in TISS, “ We cannot look at depression or anxiety as simply a neurochemical imbalance or a pathology within an individual’s mind, because often their distress is located within a larger social context.”

Srividya, a pschotherapist in Delhi explains why she thinks mental health professionals need to become socially engaged as well and why she put her name on the list,

She adds that, “Often, this distress seeps into their personal issues. They say, ‘Why should we work or do anything?’ But my answer is that this is not an option, I work on helping them reach a level where their voice matters.”

In August 2019, The Lancet, got into some hot water in India over their reports on the mental heath crisis in Kashmir arising from their “decades-long conflict.”

There has been extensive research on the social determinations of mental health, like this 2014 WHO report that explicit says: mental health is largely determined by socio-economic conditions. Minorities and oppressed people are therefore likely to face a higher burden of mental health issues - precisely because of the marginalisation they face BECAUSE they are minorities.

Srividya says that especially right now, as our country dives into civil protests, mental health services are essential. But it’s not just because of the latest anti-CAA and NRC protests, this feeling of collective unrest has been simmering for a while.

How Do You Cope?

Durgesh, a counsellor on the list adds, “In the current situation of unrest, it is going to impact the psychological balance of the people, even if they are not directly participating in it. People are being impacted directly and indirectly, and so availability of a support system might help to maintain the various feelings.”

Because psychology and dealing with trauma is individualist, there are a few strategies suggested:

  • Understand Your Feelings

"This is a fundamental strategy. At times, it might not be clear and then they can talk to others like friends, family members or anyone from the list, of they think that will help,” says Durgesh.

He says to keep a tab on these, and monitor when you’re feeling uncomfortable - this is the time to take a break.

  • Engage

Srividya adds that for the common person, it is important to engage - you cannot run from this situation, so it is important to confront issues. “Find out how you feel about it, educate, go back to safe spaces to get comfort and courage. But these issues will only grow and we must become aware, while also keeping ourselves grounded and do what we normally do everyday as well.”

  • Take Time Off

Distancing yourself from traumatic news for a while is important to give yourself time to recharge. SnehaJanaki, a counselling psychologist on the list as well adds,

“Only yesterday I advised a girl from Jamia Millia Islamia to install the app called Off time, Stay Focused, it’s a self timer on when to switch off from news. She was unable to plug off.”

Through this, you don’t feel like you are too disconnected but there is a clear break from the traumatic images too.

  • Read, Know the Facts

A lot of the fear is from misinformation and miscommunication - beware fake news! Read, form your own opinions to combat the feelings of helplessness by taking charge of your own mind.

  • Find Safe Spaces

“You can go to your family, friends, communities or even take to journaling, sketching, anything that makes you feel better and safe,” says Srividya.

  • Listen to Your Body

Durgesh says, “Focusing on the body is another important aspect, sometimes our body gives signals which helps us in understand what needs to be done.”

SnehaJanaki also says, “I think it's important to find ways to notice how dis-regulated our nervous system is and to truly do something as an act of care for ourselves. Unplugging is one such option.”

  • Put the Stress to Constructive Use

Find your sources of agitation, and once you feel ready, use that stress to motivate you to make a difference in whatever way you can.

  • Be Kind to Yourself

Lastly, SnehaJanaki adds what’s really of utmost importance is: “Being kind to oneself on how we can resist!”

(This story was auto-published from a syndicated feed. No part of the story has been edited by The Quint.)

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