You are not alone
The death of Sushant Singh Rajput has highlighted that we as a nation are not comfortable with the idea of discussing mental health which often becomes an issue that we repress — it is now time we face our 'demons'
Deepika Padukone, who has been a vocal advocate for mental health, in a recent tweet made a statement — feeling 'depressed' is not the same as feeling 'sad'. The inability to differentiate between the two itself speaks volumes about the mental health mechanism in our country. The problem is one that pervades not only through our society but also the systems that hold it together.
The Supreme Court sought response from the Centre and the Insurance Regulatory Development Authority (IRDA) on a plea alleging violation of provisions of Mental health law, which deals with the right to equality and non-discrimination. Section 21 (4) of the Mental Health Act 2017 provides for the inclusion of mental illness in insurance policies, but till date, because of the red tape attitude of IRDA, the provision has not been complied with.
India has a long history of neglecting mental health and one's mental well-being. Sushant Singh Rajput's death just triggered old debates and conversations and if not acted upon now, it will likely lose its momentum like in the suicide of Jiah Khan. With the ongoing lockdown where India's public landscape has transformed dramatically — with new social norms of self-isolation and social distancing — it is observed that the number of cases of significant psychological impact is increasing drastically. But what could be the primary reason for an average Indian and those around them to ignore their mental turmoil?
Perception of health
There are two aspects of health — physical and mental. While the physical aspect has been well taken care of be it through our frequent doctor visits or having different medicines; we completely fail to identify our mental state.
As a society, we have neglected the mental aspect of health to such an extent that the majority of Indians are teetering on the brink of mental breakdowns. A rather common reason to do so is our assumption that these kinds of problems are transient and will take care of themselves even if we choose to do nothing, the so-called thinking of 'khudse theek ho jayega'. As many of us find out all too late, this is generally not the case. Repressing our issues leads to an eventual blowout which can be harmful not only for the individual but those around them as well.
The need of the hour is to sensitise and educate individuals about how mental health is not something to brush under the carpet and ignore as some kind of shameful weakness to repress and ignore until it stops existing and we no longer feel its effects.
Assessing mental health
As our physical body gives certain signs when we are not healthy, similarly, our mind gives certain warning signs. These warning signs can be:
Drastic mood swings
Your mood moves without stability, more so than usual and others around you call you out on it.
Change in sleep patterns
You are sleeping too much and feel like you can't get out of the bed. Conversely, you aren't sleeping much at all and it's not because you aren't tired.
A decrease in performance
Your work is suffering and there is a decrease in productivity. You find it difficult to complete things that you once considered yourself quite competent in.
Lack of interest
You are losing interest or withdrawing from activities that you normally looked forward to.
Change in behaviour
Related but still distinct from mood swings. You or others around you notice small changes in your sense of values, thinking and general behaviour. The shift is quite sudden and without any obvious causal factor.
Once you have identified these signs or someone around you has pointed them out, it may be time to seek professional help or at the very least, someone to have a frank conversation with. It cannot be emphasised enough as to how important it is to share anxieties over the state of your mental affairs.
At the same time, we also need to understand that strong mental health isn't just the absence of mental health problems. Being mentally or emotionally healthy is much more than being free of depression, anxiety, or other psychological issues. Rather than the absence of mental illness, mental health refers to the presence of positive characteristics. Some of these indicators can be — a sense of contentment, zest for living, ability to deal with stress and bounce back from adversity, sense of meaning and purpose, in both their activities and their relationships etc.
It is an unfortunate reality that we are always being pushed to be mentally strong and to keep our chin up and ignore signs that our mental condition is being derailed. This method only creates a mental state that is brittle to unexpected shocks and can only continue to function given certain circumstances. This lockdown has derailed those circumstances for many. Many of us, away from our workplace, our routine and our colleagues find that we no longer have the capacity to deal with such emptiness. Thus, some of us break. And it is in such a time when COVID-19 is breaking our fragile mental and material ecosystems, our Government must heed the warning signs. The IRDA must penalise insurance companies that continue the non-inclusion of mental health treatments in medical insurance. If we do not make a change, the youth demographic we are so very proud of will burn out at unprecedented rates leading to a more visible crisis.
Depression is a widespread disorder but poorly understood and accepted. The symptoms can negatively affect a person's thoughts and behaviours to a debilitating degree. While all of us must deal with life and its challenges in our capacities, you are not alone in all this. Talk. Communicate. Express. Seek help.
(With inputs from Semim Ahmed)