Mental First Aid- STOP! Trivialising the Nontrivial

Mental First Aid- STOP! Trivialising the Nontrivial

~ By Khushi Koul

Mental illness is ubiquitous and yet, is the ‘elephant in the room’. The perilous combination of uncertainty, apprehension and economic insecurity, has induced hopelessness amongst the masses, pushing them into a state of vulnerability. It becomes all the more important during this global pandemic to TALK about mental health and make sure it’s the centre of every living room discussion. Countless reasons have given way to aggravating the pre-existing conditions, and also birthing new ones. Social distancing and isolation have led to befriending solitude. The economic fallout has rendered numerous unemployed. People have been shoved into the trench of poverty. The inner ambience of delving into multiple abodes is not very healthy. The soaring numbers of domestic violence and child abuse cases are a testimony to the same. Overload of information, supplemented with rumours is also unhealthy. Along with the coronavirus, the hoax news pandemic also needs to be tackled. Routines have been distorted, and there is a continual fear of catching the virus. All of this clubbed with interrupted treatment and limited social support is having a debilitating impact on the people. The discourse surrounding mental health is very essential because, even when things improve, some spheres have been altered permanently. Some people may continue to suffer as acclimatizing to the ‘new normal’ is easier said than done. 

What is Mental Health and Illness?

Medical News Today defines mental health as cognitive, behavioural and emotional well-being. It is all about a person’s mood, thinking and behaviour. Mental illness, on the other hand, is an umbrella term, of which anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, autism, bipolar disorder, dementia etc. are subsets. This theme receives sporadic attention. Celebrity suicides, or them opening up about their frame of mind, draws our attention and stirs up conversations on mental health. This makes us realise that one can have all the privilege and opulence, and still suffer psychologically. 

Striking Data

It is key to note that even prior to the pandemic, India was struggling with a mental health crisis. In the previous 12 months, more than 90% of the population with mental health conditions did not seek treatment or receive care as per Dr Vikram Patel, who’s a Harvard professor. Talking about the numbers WHO mentions that suicide makes 8,00,000 people its prey every year. It is the leading cause of death in the age group of 15-29. A nugget of information: For each adult who dies of suicide, there are 20 others attempting it. According to WHO, India is the most depressed country in the world, and we don’t even see a will to change our position in this index. About 6.5% of Indians suffer from a serious mental condition. 150 million individuals need active psychological interventions, says NIMHANS. And sadly, only 10-12% of them seek help, owing to the stigma, lack of awareness and acute shortage of psychiatrists, counsellors and the like. There are only 4000 psychiatrists in the country, and doing the math, it implies the availability of just one professional for approximately four lakh people. 

Government Intervention and Legislation

According to the first National Mental Health Policy, which was implemented in 2017, some noteworthy provisions are decriminalisation of suicide and the right to confidentiality. Furthermore, ‘shock treatment’ is prohibited for children, and a directive banned the use of muscle relaxants clubbed with shock treatment on adults. The budget allocation for the NMHP dropped from Rs.50 crores in 2018 to Rs.40 crores in 2019. There has been a gap between the allocation and the actual spending, with the latter being a scanty amount of Rs.5 crore each year. There has been a 7% spike in the funds earmarked for the health sector, but no corresponding rise in the realm of mental health. The Indian Journal of Psychiatry Study stated that the cost of loss of productivity attributed to mental illness borne by the government is greater than the cost required to foster the mental health sector. All these facts hint towards the negligent attitude of the government, leading to the belittling of a grave matter.

Mental Health and Medical Insurance

The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDAI) had issued an ordinance in 2018 for insurance firms to cover mental ailment under medical insurance. This was an appreciable move to acknowledge that both mental and physical malady carry significant weightage, reiterating that stress and confusion should be dealt with as seriously as a pain in your chest.  However, compliance with the mandate has not been witnessed in the past two years. The Supreme court has raised questions on the same and has also issued a notice to the Government and IRDAI. This will take a long time to be materialised as destigmatising, creating awareness and accessibility to mental healthcare have not been given priority. In fact, seeking therapy is still a luxury for a  majority of the population. 

Affirmative Action

As we all know, helplines are deemed as lifelines today. A contemporary initiative by the Assam government in this regard is laudable. ‘Monon’, a mental health program for COVID-19 patients, is different from other similar projects as it comprises a team of 220 professionals, who reach out to 15 infected patients each in a day. The existence of telemedicine platforms at present is great, but digital illiteracy and limited availability undermine the masses of its benefits. ‘Sangath’, is one of the pioneers of mental health services in our country. They partner with state governments for making mental health care deliverable to the most impoverished communities.

What can we do?

Suicide is preventable, yet is a grave public health matter.  needs to be given its due attention by the society in its entirety. It requires a collective effort to fabricate an endearing environment, where nobody chooses to blanket themselves. We must put a full stop to the discrimination that the survivors and their loved ones have to face.

 Early identification can be advantageous, some signs to keep an eye out for are: being withdrawn, keeping surprisingly quiet, drastic changes in body clock and appetite, expressing hopelessness, conversing too much about suicide and being lost or being drenched into melancholy for a prolonged period. To all the lovely readers, there is no standard prescription for everyone on how on to keep yourself mentally fit, but I am penning a few here: 

  • TALK therapy, talk to anybody you’re comfortable with and you can count upon, but make sure you convey how you feel. 
  • It is rightly said that “An empty mind is a devil’s workshop”. Orient yourself to a routine, and follow it religiously. Make a deliberate attempt to stay occupied. 
  • Pursue a hobby, it will fill you with contentment.
  • Sound therapy can do wonders, listen to the music which helps you relax and keeps you upbeat. 
  • Meditate and indulge in exercise. It will not only help you boost your immunity but also ameliorate your self-esteem and cognitive function. 
  • Spend time in nature’s lap. Get started with gardening, maybe.
  • Lastly, life coaches suggest that storytelling can be the perfect healer. So, read and listen.

The Government authorities certainly do need to pay more heed to the gravitas of the issue. Primary mental health needs to be offered in the government’s wellness centres, awareness campaigns must be backed by it, and it should give assent for more seats in the professional colleges, under this particular domain. More services, helplines, and safe spaces need to be curated free of charge for the deprived strata. Cumulative support of the Government and the Society can give mental health the paramount importance it deserves.

The ground might seem to be crumbling right now, but be hopeful, we all will sail through. Solidarity and ounces of kindness are the secret ingredients for peaceful coexistence. Here, I present to you a floral prose from my heart’s bough.

Stepping out of your homes tomorrow
Make sure you spread bliss not sorrow
Conversing with someone, don't be curt
Deep down inside they might be hurt
Be someone's tranquillity in pain
Be a boon in this world full of bane
What separates us from animals is our emotions and language
For the ones who are internally strained, act as operation 'salvage'
Know that, seeking aid is righteous
Not at all ludicrous
Don't call the uncommon insane
It's a tryst with your conscious, be humane



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