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Anagha Krishna delves into the mental health crisis in India, exploring the nature of our crisis and its exacerbated state due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She emphasizes the need to have open conversations about mental health to do away with the stigma that often seems to accompany it.

Mental health is a concern being seriously discussed worldwide. The mental health crisis in India is an issue that has often been understated. Even when many trivialized issues gained global attention, India’s mental health situation took a backseat. It won’t be wrong to say that it has worsened since the onset of Covid.

Well, what is the definition of health? Health, according to the WHO, is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Most people used to, and some still limit the definition of health into merely physical health. Well, they are not to be blamed completely, they were just conditioned by the conventional norms of an immature society that stigmatized and criminalized lacking mental peace, especially in a country like India. India has always been one of the countries where the mob has complete command over people living there, and their minds. Most people might have had experiences where people who need a little help to get on with their life were teased and were warned that they would be sent away to mental hospitals. Mental health disorders were often seen as a result of a lack of self-discipline or the inability to handle life’s situations properly and cope up with changes. And people who expressed their feelings were often asked to hold on or to try to adapt to whatever made them restless. These stereotypes of course decreased the needy’s access to proper care and treatment. The myths associated with needing psychological help added to it and made it an issue that wasn’t supposed to be talked about, and something that ate up thousands of Indians every year and made life hell for millions. Compared to the western countries, Mental health issues are more beyond the pale in India. This along with the myths attached to mental health disorders makes sure that the needy suffer in silence. It is more than shocking that around 70% of Indians still use stereotypical and primitive terminology to address these issues.

In 2017, President Ram Nath Kovind said that India was facing a mental health pandemic. Statistics show that the number of people suffering from mental disorders almost doubled over the past three decades… Almost 80% of people who need help don’t get it… India ranks first in suicide rates per year in the south Asian region… Where is our country going? In our hurry to rank first in everything, in our passionate pursuit of many other things, in our desire to make India a rich place to live, have we forgotten to give enough importance to how we feel inside? To what really makes the world around us a better place to live? Needless to be diplomatic, but nothing is merely what we see outside, it’s all just a state of mind. What is the use of living in a palace if you feel you have a dark and scary forest inside?

Let us have a glimpse at some studies. There are only actually a few studies done in the Indian Mental Health context. And most of them do underestimate the numbers, most probably due to lack of proper information or the difficulty associated with opening up. One of the studies found mental health among adolescents to be very low, and depression was identified in 29.04%. Stigma was found to be present in help-seeking.

Our current political-social scenario calls for the need of young people who can think properly, or can’t easily get skewed towards the selfish desires of political tyrants or can’t be swayed by glittery, self-destructive power systems. Adolescents who did not get the help they needed in their teens grow up to be a part of an all-destroying poisonous system and add to the handicap that rules our country.

What exactly steals the mental peace of teenagers? Well, let us look at the current Covid scenario and the methods employed by the government to keep our education system on track. Education became so exam-oriented that children were forced to attend schools/colleges for more than two years from home. Exams were conducted on time, competition among students increased in many ways, students found it hard to find someone around them to talk to, especially those who have difficulty talking to strangers were shut in their rooms with nothing, but the internet. No harm in saying that even our parents forgot to check on their children. Everyone acts normally when it is not normal. The situation was not very different pre-Covid too. Very few boards have the importance of mental health incorporated into their syllabus, unlike a lot of western countries.

A survey conducted recently shows that major mental health issues reported were anxiety, depression, fear over uncertain future, stress, and insomnia- they all go hand in hand with the pandemic. Even the risk of suicide increased.

In developing countries like ours, the economic burden of mental health disorders is also something that needs to be mentioned. Our country has suffered huge economic losses on account of mental health disorders. These disorders affect families with low income, education, and accessibility. Studies reveal that around two-thirds of people who suffer from depression, anxiety, or stress often prejudice the employers and therefore lose their jobs or don’t get hired. It is certainly alarming that the proportion of employees in the private sector who suffer from some kind of anxiety or depression is more than 40%. The World Health Organization estimates that India will suffer economic losses of around 1.03 trillion dollars from mental health conditions between 2012 and 2030.

Although everything mentioned above scares someone who is genuinely concerned for India’s future, needless to mention, after Covid hit, all these issues that were “not supposed to be talked about” seem to be rising and discussed. Awareness and health are like two sides of a coin. Social media amplified the voice of people who wanted to talk, and we see every day lots of helpline numbers circulating through the internet. There are government platforms as well that aim to help the needy. All this has surely taken the stigma associated with mental health off of it. These campaigns with the involvement of celebrities and high-profile people opening up about their experiences have certainly shed a lot of light on India’s Mental health crisis.

It is undoubtedly the need of the hour to address them properly and help people from even underprivileged communities have access to these services.

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