With Novel Corona virus on its full swing, India also needs to prepare for a more dangerous issue which might have deep penetrating effects on Indian society in times to come.
A headline from The Hindu dated 4 June 2020 read: ‘45,000 dial mental health helpline in 2 months’.
Whopping 45000 people, 55% of whom are in 26-40 year age group, called BMCMpower, a mental health service provider in partnership with the government of Maharashtra. This situation is both, a matter of concern and a ray of hope. Given the dismal state of awareness about Mental Health in India, seeing people reaching out for help reflects the changing focus. However, as most of the callers who sought help from BMCMpower, were reported to be anxious about Post LockDown scene along with isolation, its also a matter of concern.
In India, intimate partner violence is not a strange thing to us. Many womxn callers reported domestic abuse and how it is leading them to have suicidal thoughts. Lockdown has further reinforced exploitation by denying them access to a support system. The lockdown has also been equally harmful to the queer community, some of whom now have to face violence at both emotional and physical levels from their own families without having the opportunity to reach out for help. Yet, for some, the lockdown has forced them to hide their sexual identities and 24*7 pretend to be someone they are not.
However, interestingly 69% of callers who sought help were males. This signals towards the changing conceptions about masculinity and how the society does not expect males to present themselves as weak or fragile. The stigmas are slowly dissolving with the increased efforts of non-profits and youth collectives working hard to make people aware of the importance of emotional health.
Overall, such stats surely present India with a new set of challenges to face, but at the very same time also indicate that people have started taking their mental healths as important as their physical well being.
India needs to deal with this issue at two levels, cognitive and behavioural, in order to lead mass attitude change. On the cognitive level, the government must collaborate with non-profits or institutions working on similar grounds to launch awareness oriented campaigns. To address the behavioural aspect, by proving quality and non-discriminatory mental health services for free or at very low costs, would encourage citizens to reach out for help in case of distress. Again, all such policies must be formed so that even the poor and marginalised communities can take equal advantage out of them.
Would it take many more pandemics to make us realise that mental health matters? Just like physically healthy and strong citizens add on to nation’s human resource, mentally and emotionally healthy citizens prove to be an instrument of positive development. We’ve ignored it far too long. Its time we give it the importance it deserves.