“I have an unbearable stomach ache!” she exclaimed. And in turn, she heard things like, “should we go to the doctor?”, “take some medicines.”, “go get some rest.” What if we heard these accepting statements when someone spoke about their mental pain or their psychological illness? Why don’t we treat the psychological wounds just the way we treat the physical ones? Although there has been increasing awareness about mental health and the narrative has changed substantially since the last few years, at least in India, we have a long way to go in terms of awareness and more importantly acceptance. Contrary to a majority opinion, mental illnesses are not a “modern problem”. People have been suffering from mental health issues even in the past, but it was not being spoken about as often as it now. Let’s look at the most simple definition of mental health, “It is an individual’s cognitive, behavioral, and emotional well-being”. That means our mental health will have an impact on what we think, how we behave, and how we feel. You cannot take away thoughts, emotions, and behavior from any aspect of your life, and yet unfortunately it fails to receive the required attention. Mental health is not just the absence of mental illness or disorder. When we say someone has achieved mental well-being, we mean that they can cope with their day-to-day lives comparatively distress free. It does not mean that mentally healthy people will never face any kind of stress, it simply means that they have the internal tools to cope with the stress and overcome it. They are in control of the situation rather than the situation being in control of them. They are flexible and adapt to the changes that life throws at them. They can build and maintain fulfilling relationships which in turn help them maintain their mental well-being.
Some facts related to mental health to put things into perspective:
● 7.5% of Indians suffer from some sort of mental health problem (WHO)
● One in seven Indians were affected by mental disorders of varying severity in 2017.
● Nearly 150 million individuals need active psychological intervention (The National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences- NIMHANS)
● The mental health workforce in India (per 100,000 population) includes psychiatrists (0.3), nurses (0.12), psychologists (0.07), and social workers (0.07) (WHO)
As shocking as these official numbers may seem, there still exist several cases that go unreported. There is a lot to be done, at global, national, and individual levels. To begin with the global level, there must be a stronger narrative surrounding mental health. At the national level, governments must not only be a part of this global narrative, but they must actively make policy and resource-based decisions in line with mental health. They must invest money, make mental facilities easily available and get their citizens to talk about it and avail of these facilities. In line with this idea, The World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) has declared the theme of the 2020 World Mental Health Day (10th October) Campaign as “Mental Health for All-Greater Investment – Greater Access”. When the investment is more, naturally the access will be better. When access is better, the use of those facilities will also be increase. This will further improve the quality of the services. It is a wheel that will bring the much-needed momentum to the mental health narrative. What can I do as an individual? You can’t pour from an empty cup, so first and foremost, keep a check on your mental health. Entrust professionals with your mental health when things seem out of control. Problems may seem permanent but they are not. Seek help and find solutions to those seemingly permanent problems. Keep a check on the mental health of your loved ones. Lend a listening and non-judgmental ear, check-in with them from time to time. Recommend a professional if need be.
Small things that you can do at your level to maintain your mental health could be:
● Get the proper amount of required sleep. Research has shown how lack of sleep can have damaging effects on our minds and body.
● Exercise and have a healthy diet to ensure your body is well taken care of.
● Engage in activities that give you joy – don’t think twice before taking that much-required break.
● Keep a check on the sources of stress in your life. Solve the minor problems immediately to help you get a sense of control over things.
● Make self-care a priority in whatever small way possible.
Mental health is as complex as physical health and requires professional care. Sometimes the internal tools that one has and relies upon may not be sufficient. Just like you would not trust just about anybody with your body, you should not trust anybody but a professional to help you take care of your mind.
We at Vartalabh started with a motto to make mental health services as accessible as possible. We are here to help you and your loved ones find the right help at the right time.
Ms. Sayli Gurav