“Have mental health discussions gotten an impetus? Yes. But my only concern is this shouldn’t be like the item song that’s come in now and will be forgotten later,” rues Kamna Chhibber, a clinical psychologist, who admits that conversations around mental health are immense, now.
This year saw a sea of changes thanks to the coronavirus scare. It altered our way of life, forced us to stay indoors for months together to stay safe. And undoubtedly, this was not an easy task. However, one change we witnessed during the pandemic-induced lockdown and the months that followed was the rising number of discussions around mental health.
“To an extent, stigma may be easing around it. But I am concerned whether we are talking about mental health in the right way. We still use mental health-related terminology in a very lose manner. Also, treatment is not fully understood, and access is still an issue. There are policies and bills in place, issue lies in implementing. Also, we have to recognise that in our country, there is a deficit of experts,” says Chhibber, ahead of World Mental Health Day, which is observed on October 10 every year.
As a community, we seldom discuss mental health issues openly. “Parents request doctors not to tell anyone and to not put any remark on prescriptions, saying their family will judge the child or their parenting. In our community, we still consider mental health issues non-curable or lifetime disease,” says Dr Shweta Sharma, a consultant clinical psychologist. And it is this stigma that makes one perceive mental health issues as one that only affects the “fragile-minded”, notes Dr Preeti Singh, senior consultant , clinical psychology, at a Gurugram-based hospital.
“People still feel hesitant while talking about their mental health, as there is a stigma attached to the topic and the community still does not accept it as a serious health issue. It is still termed as a problem for fragile-minded people,” she says, adding that awareness is the need of the hour.
Agrees Akanksha Chandele, a consultant psychologist. She says, “Awareness campaigns regarding myths and facts related to mental health and therapy will encourage people to seek help. Also, launch of tele-counselling services will encourage people to take a step forward.”
Echoing similar sentiments, Singh says telepsychiatry can go a long way in addressing mental health woes in rural India. “Prompted by Covid-19, the recent shift to telemedicine can also be used in providing counselling. Teleconsulation not only assures privacy and anonymity, but is also expected to bring down costs for patients,” she adds.
Meanwhile, Sharma feels community mental health reach programs in local languages are essential to increase awareness. “Some mental health programs should be included at the school level itself, so that students can take mental health as normal as we take physical health,” she asserts. To this, Chhibber adds, “Basic concepts of mental health and related terminologies should be introduced in schools. We need to look at methods which will empower young minds. Even grade 1 and 2 kids can easily be spoken with about basics. You can break it down in terms of life skills, resilience, etc. Schools are a very robust medium to reach out to children of all age groups.”
Author tweets @srinidhi_gk