As of July 9, 2019, India’s population is equivalent to 17.74% of the total world population. So, it comes as no surprise that according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, India’s population is suffering from one form of mental health issues or the other. It is not an exaggeration if one states that India is indeed staring at a mental health epidemic.
Scarily enough, due to the lack of awareness, the stigma associated with mental illness and inadequate access to professional cum medical health, the chasm of mental health epidemic increases at an alarming rate.
India has a serious deficit of mental health professionals to tackle the ever-growing population of mentally-ill patients. In a situation where interventions in the guise of medicine, social and psychological help can make a major difference, 80% of the people tend not to seek any professional help due to the shame, discrimination, and stigma associated with it.
Loya Agarwala , author of A School Counsellor’s Diary and a noted students’ counselor and personality development consultant, sheds some light on this issue on the occasion of World Mental Health Day on October 10.
• How serious is the mental health issue in the country?
I would say that the mental health issue has become a very major concern for the population. It is due to many factors especially pertaining to the higher standards of living, faster pace of life, more competition at the workplace or school or college, etc. It’s becoming a very competitive world and as a result, cases of depression have increased, cases of anxiety have increased and on the whole, mental health has become a very serious case in the country.
• What are the most common signs that a person is going through some form of mental health issues?
Well, obviously anything that affects your life such that you cannot function normally would be a mental health concern. So if there is something that is affecting you to the point where you can’t eat or sleep properly and it is consuming your thoughts to the point where you are not happy, or you find work or school to be a burden or even your regular routine of things to be a burden then obviously that is a sign of a mental health problem.
Now, the other signs would be more serious, that would be nervousness and some kind of palpitations, heart issues, gastrointestinal problems, etc. All these would be secondary but definitely, mental health issues would start along those lines if they were related to depression. But if it has to do with mental health problems like a more psychological disorder than that would actually be more apparent to the family members than the person themselves and that would require a more clinical diagnosis. So, as I say, the signs would be more varied and would be very difficult to say exactly what the signs of mental health illness is as it has a very broad spectrum of illness.
• Do you think the portrayal of mental disorders in movies and series has led to the false representation of a serious issue?
Well, I wouldn’t say that it is a false representation entirely but it can be a misleading one. Very often when you are watching movies it’s the prerogative of the director to exaggerate symptoms and as a result label the client as insane or mad which isn’t, in reality, the truth. You don’t have to be mad or insane to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist or a counselor. Ironically, if you can nip these problems early in the bud when they are very small you can entirely eliminate or reduce the impact of that particular problem on the individual by far. So, in a way movies do definitely sort of make the public feel that there is a stigma attached to seeing any mental health professional and it can be detrimental to people because they do not seek help and are more hesitant to do so.
• In 2018, India was said to be the most depressed country by WHO. What do you think is the reason behind it?
It’s difficult to pinpoint one particular reason as there are many reasons. One of the factors I would say would be the disintegration of the social fabric in the present generation compared to the earlier generation. Another reason would be that the standard of living has increased, we have a lot more digital technology now which takes up a lot of time and children become more obsessed and as a result, the gap between the parents and children has increased. Also because of the increase in the standard of living we have more working mothers and on top of that competition in schools and colleges and the rat race, in general, has become incredibly competitive. So, all of these brings a problem to the home front and as a result, suicide rates have increased manifold.
In fact, India is one of the countries of the world having the highest suicide rate among adolescents which was reported by the medical journal The Lancet. So, yes, we have a problem and the reason is the huge divide between the present generation and the earlier generation. There aren’t enough resources especially in the world of mental health professionals to cope with this tremendous epidemic of mental health problems. So, the fact that we aren’t able to meet the demand could be one of the reasons for high proportions of depressed people.
• Do you think educational pressure plays a role in the increase in mental health issues?
My answer to that is if you could just have a look at the cut-off rates of Delhi University. For example, this year you would see that the cut-offs are extremely high. We are talking 99% or more for some colleges in DU. This is just an example to show that educational pressure has increased because it has to meet the demands of colleges and the demands that they have set for the students to achieve in terms of academic results. So, what ends up happening as a result of that is that there is tremendous pressure on the child not only from the family but from schools and they are exhausted by going to tuition and by studying and they are losing their childhood in the process and so therefore of course children are going to be depressed as a result of that because they are unable to cope with the pressure that they are under. So something needs to be done to reduce the system’s intense pressure that it is putting our children against.