How to contribute to make India a more mentally aware and mentally well/healthy nation?

Within our nation, there is a common misconception that our collectivistic culture and the presence of family somehow acts a ‘shield’ from mental health concerns. While it is a great source of support, its existence should not be treated as the solution or an excuse to ignore mental health concerns.
Cognitive neuroscience researcher, Tali Sharot, states that individuals are less likely to believe that an event can happen to themselves- the optimism bias. More often than not, I have noticed, in my therapeutic practice, people have an almost unconscious tendency to assume that they are somewhat immune to experiencing any sort of mental health concern. Sharot found that preventive mental health care options remain in the dark, courtesy this assumption.
To gain a better understanding, let’s examine some relevant statistics. According to the W.H.O. (2018), India is the most depressed country followed by China and U.S.A. The National Mental Health Survey (2015-16) further found that nearly 150 million Indians need active interventions, across genders and ages. The number of suicides is also exponentially increasing at the rate of 170,000 deaths in a year (Patel et al, 2012 in The Lancet).
The factors contributing to mental health concerns are numerous and are unique to the individual experiencing them. However, the biggest societal problem today is stigma. Denial that mental health concerns impact only others and not the self feeds into the stigma associated with mental health concerns. This leads to the unfortunate attitude that we all are familiar with: “log kya kahenge?”. This very epidemic (as I often like to term it) is at the helm of the uphill journey towards reducing the stigma and prevents people from seeking help.
So how do we begin to confront the elephant in the room, as a nation?
For starters- being open to talking sensitively about mental health. It is time to do away with tiptoeing around mental health topics and to stop demeaning individuals who seek help. This begins at home and in schools, from a young age. Adults who seek help and talk about it encourage youngsters by their example and set off positive trends.
The need of the hour is to shift the perspective to “mental well-being” and convey that seeking mental health help is as commonplace and necessary as a general physical check-up.
It is time to normalize seeking help to look after one’s mental health and talking about it openly. Regular programs sensitizing students, teachers and parents to mental health concerns and therapy will help reduce the taboo, earlier on. A general multi-pronged effort is not just important but incumbent and mandatory.
Individuals do not view seeking help for a mental health concern as the main obstacle- rather it is the fear of our society’s judgement and disapproval.
It’s time we, as a nation, look out for one other and start addressing mental health with compassion and empathy instead of judgment.

Image source-Google

Dr-Zirak

Dishaa Desai

Psychologist & Outreach Associate, Mpower – The Centre