Every year, Mental health Day is celebrated on 10th of October. There has been a surge in both awareness and dedication towards mental health in India in the last few years, especially during the ongoing pandemic.
World Mental Health Day was first observed on October 10, 1992, as an annual activity of the World Federation for Mental Health. The Day provides an opportunity for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide.
The theme of this year's World Mental Health Day in 2021 was 'Mental health in an unequal world'. While the pandemic has affected everyone, people with long term health conditions, or facing discrimination or parenting on their own are struggling the most and need more support.
The Pandemic and Mental Health
According to a new WHO survey that was published ahead of WHO’s Big Event for Mental Health ? a global online advocacy event on 10 October, 2020 bringing together world leaders, celebrities, and advocates to call for increased mental health investments in the wake of COVID-19, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a hurdle or lead to a complete halt in critical mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide. All this while, the demand for mental healthcare is increasing. The survey of 130 countries provides the first global data showing the devastating impact of COVID-19 on access to mental health services and underscores the urgent need for increased funding.
The ongoing pandemic is increasing demand for mental health services worldwide including India. The large-scale deaths, disease and after effects have led to bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear that are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating already existing ones.
Large populations may also be facing increased levels of alcohol and drug use, insomnia, and anxiety. Meanwhile, those that underwent COVID-19 itself experienced several neurological and mental complications, such as delirium, agitation, and stroke. People with pre-existing mental, neurological or substance use disorders are anyways more vulnerable in such situations.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization said, “Good mental health is absolutely fundamental to overall health and well-being. COVID-19 has interrupted essential mental health services around the world just when they’re needed most. World leaders must move fast and decisively to invest more in life-saving mental health programs- during the pandemic and beyond.”
Mental health: awareness is great, but action is essential
The point is, raising awareness of mental health is all well and good, but it doesn’t automatically follow that the problems and concerns around mental health will be affected in any appreciable way. Many people are “aware” about whatever is wrong around them, but do little or nothing about these things.
Having an abstract awareness of mental health issues does not automatically translate to a willingness or ability to do anything about them. Someone may be newly aware of what’s happening when a friend is in the grips of depression, but they could also be aware that helping them is likely to be demanding, stressful and largely unrewarding. The latter could well be what sways their behavior, compelling them to keep their distance rather than intervene.
The danger essentially lies in people thinking “raising awareness” is sufficient to deal with the issue, whatever it may be. In most cases, it isn’t. And this isn’t ideal. It’s a common complaint, about the people who, following a tragedy, change their profile pic on Facebook, or tweet “thoughts and prayers”, or sign a petition, or what have you. While an action like that may be 100% well intended, all it really achieves is making the individual feel better because they’ve “done something”. A sense of control in the face of unpleasant events in the world is restored: a sense of achievement at getting something “out there”. But in real-world terms, it changes nothing.
Why is Mental Health Literacy Required?
Mental health literacy is the beliefs and knowledge about mental health issues and their remedies. Attitudes and beliefs of lay individuals about mental illness are shaped by personal knowledge about mental illness, knowing and interacting with someone living with mental illness, and cultural stereotypes. Mental health issues are increasing and are alarming in almost every part of the world, and hence compiling this review provides an opportunity to understand the different views regarding mental disorders and problems as well as to fill the gap in the published literature by focusing only on the belief system and perception of mental health problems among general population.
Attitudes and beliefs about mental illness are shaped by personal knowledge about mental illness, knowing and interacting with someone living with mental illness, cultural stereotypes about mental illness, media stories, and familiarity with institutional practices and past restrictions (e.g. health insurance restrictions, employment restrictions, adoption restrictions).
The cultural context is important when studying beliefs regarding mental health. The understanding of mental health and the interpretation vary from culture to culture. People’s perception of illness explains their help-seeking behavior or lack thereof. It has been found that people stopped contacting with services and arranged for their own discharge, once they were diagnosed.
There are some cultures, mostly Southeast Asians including Indians, who perceive that supernatural forces/phenomenon are responsible for mental health issues and consider them the result of wrath or denial of spirit or deities. This notion of supernatural or parapsychological phenomenon is not limited to Asia. Some Western cultures hold this idea too. A study conducted in Switzerland, with psychiatric patients, revealed that demons were considered the main cause of mental health problems. A South Asian study revealed that people there perceive mental illness as natural part of the suffering that is predestined for them.
Cultural differences exist regarding the etiology of mental health issues and the maintaining factors. Asian studies revealed the beliefs that somatic and organic factors lead to emotional problems and thus prefer physical treatment. Mental health problems and their causes are explained by Chinese culture as an imbalance of cosmic forces, and the preferred treatment is to restore the balance through interpersonal relationships, diet, exercise, and focusing on cognitions.
Festive Season and Mental health
For most people, the festive season is a very happy time of the year, however, for some it can be a time of increased stress, anxiety, disappointment, loneliness or increased financial pressures.
In India particularly, October and November i.e., days immediately after World Mental Health Day fall during the festive season.
Cooking family recipes, buying presents, keeping children and youngsters engaged and entertained, decorating your home, cleaning up after family gatherings – the list of tasks is endless. For people who struggle with chronic stress, this time of year can be overwhelming and exhausting.
There’s also the added pressure of financial worries and feelings of guilt if you can’t afford to buy your children or loved ones the presents that they really want. In 2020-21 many people had to cope with the impact of the pandemic on economy and employment, this may have added further pressure to the idea of buying presents.
Social media can also play a role in exacerbating your stress during the holiday season, as comparing yourself to others’ seemingly ‘perfect’ festivals can leave you feeling like a failure for not having the best of everything.
Thus, it is evident the festive season can be a major catalyst for stress, which is why it’s so important to take steps to look after yourself and try to minimize this.
A few common reasons why festivals and the days leading to it might be difficult for some can be:
1. You are physically alone, away from friends & family or you feel lonely even when surrounded by people.
2. You have unpleasant memories of earlier festivals, especially from childhood.
3. Festivals make you remember loved ones who have passed away or are no longer connected with you. Memories of happier times with them might pull you down.
4. Festivals cause financial distress to you.
5. Your physical health suffers in this season.
6. People-pleasing is difficult for you and you struggle to try to keep up with everyone else’s demands on your time, attention and energy.
What you can do to relieve this distress
1. Let your feelings out in a journal or a notebook, especially any anger or frustration you feel.
2. Share the negative mental chatter you have towards this time of year with someone you love and/or trust.
3. Make YOUR OWN family or friendship traditions that you can look forward to from this year onwards.
4. Write a letter to a loved one whom you miss during the festivals, even if they have passed away or the relationship has ended, the letter doesn't need to be sent, just written.
5. Budget, don't overspend, don't compete with what others do.
6. Be selective about which invites you accept. If you really don’t want to attend an event then that’s ok. Choose to be in control of your social calendar.
In case you or anyone else in India is feeling distressed, kindly contact one of these helplines:
KIRAN – 1800 599 0019 (24×7) — 13 Indian languages
NIMHANS – 080 – 4611 0007 (24×7) — Multiple languages
ICall – 9152987821 (Monday-Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.)
Pallium India – +91 759 405 2605 (Monday-Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.) — Eight Indian languages
CoHope Helpline – +91 98185 40802 (10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.)