By: Vishnu Goyal
On World Mental Health Day 2021, THE ANTS organized an online event with the theme ‘MENTAL HEALTH IN AN UNEQUAL WORLD.’ The event’s purpose was to bring the people together with mental health experts and lead all towards better mental health and wellbeing.
For providing expert guidance on the mental health issues and how shall we deal with those, the event was graced by:
- Air Marshal (Dr) Pawan Kapoor, AVSM, VSM, and BAR (Retd.), Former Director-General of Medical Services (IAF)
- Dr. Anuttama Banerjee, Consultant Psychologist & Academic Mentor
- Dr. Sadaf Jafri, Assistant Professor in Department of Education, AMU, Malappuram Campus
Mr. Sharib Suhail, Communications and Media Officer at THE ANTS, inaugurated the event with a vote of thanks to the audience and the honored guests and emphasizing the sensitiveness of the issue of mental health stating “Accordnig to UN 2016 data, nearly 8 lacs people dies every year by suicide and nearly 79% of global suicides occur in low and middle income countries. This is a day which is earmarked to spread awareness around mental health and other related issues. When we discuss these sensitive issues, an expert perspective is highly regarded.”
Right from the outset, the event unfolded the most common issues we are facing today on our mental health front and how we can tackle those, more in a pragmatic sense.
Pandemic, your mental health, and depression
Mr. Sharib kicked off the event with the first question to Air Marshal (Dr) Pawan Kapoor: “How has mental health become a concern during the pandemic?”
Sharing his views on pandemic and mental health, Air Marshal (Dr.) Pawan Kapoor said: “The pandemic has affected us in many ways. Apart from physical health, it has definitely impacted our mental health. If you go to WHO (website and see), the definition of health, health means physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely absence of disease or infirmity. You look to be alright but there may be mental issues which are going on in your mind, which can be related to many aspects. In the pandemic, many of us got isolated, even those who were elderly, who were school-going children, who were economically marginalized, who were socially marginalized — All of them felt the brunt of the pandemic. It has a huge impact on each and every stratum of our society. We can say the pandemic equally affected all strata of society. Everybody was affected.”
Highlighting the issues of loneliness in pandemic, Dr. Kapoor added, “There was a sense of loneliness (during pandemic). There was a sense that nobody was available to look after you. You also could not access the mental health services because mental health services got disrupted. And the loneliness increased. People who were in their elderly age group became isolated. And of course, it did impact a lot of people who have grievances in their families. There was more stressful living during the pandemic. There was apprehension even amongst the frontline workers. Everyone was impacted in this pandemic and mental health was the common impact where you suffered, your neighbor suffered, all your relatives suffered, all your near and dear ones suffered, or you got economically marginalized or you got socially marginalized. In all these ways, each one got impacted.”
Adding to how pandemic has affected mental health, Dr. Sadaf discussed how media houses and social media have played a role in amplifying the issue and how we can use those to positively handle situations like hanging out and recreational activities online.
Bursting the myths around mental wellbeing and depression
Quoting a personal incident about how clinical depression can lead to losing a life, Mr. Sharib emphasized how there is a cloud of myths, confusion, and lies that surrounds mental health issues.
“There are people who dub even a little issue or a state of casual boredom as depression and use the term leniently. And there are people who are suffering from a serious state of depression but find it hard to acknowledge the issue or are not willing to accept it and don’t seek help on time.”
To burst the myths and confusion around depression and mental health disorders, Air Marshal (Dr) Pawan Kapoor enlightened us, sharing lessons from his experience in Indian Armed Forces:
“I have had a long experience in the Armed Forces. When we were in the Armed Forces, there was a common issue (depression) we used to face. Because of living away from family, working in a stressful environment without knowing whether we will be alive tomorrow or not, having issues in the family — All these factors are there but people hesitate to admit it, talk about it. People are not willing to come forward and say that they are not okay. And many people don’t recognize that my colleague or my peer or my family member is facing some sort of depression. Depression has got many definitions. People think this is a sign of weakness — That if I say to somebody that I am mentally not well or I am depressed, then it’s my weakness. So, they don’t want to come forward. It has got a stigma attached to it because people are not aware. So, what we need to do is to prevent this stigma from spreading by organizing awareness events like THE ANTS is doing right now.”
Air Marshal (Dr) Pawan Kapoor further added that “it’s important to burst following myths around mental health and depression by making people aware with awareness campaigns and events:”
Mental health myth #1: Mental disorder is a sign of weakness.
Mental health myth #2: Mental disorders are not to be communicated.
Mental health myth #3: You’re supposed to keep it within yourself.
Mental health myth #4: Keep it under the carpet. I will not talk about this to anybody because I am worried about what other people might think of it. I am worried about what my family might think of it. And I am worried that I will lose respect.
As Dr. Kapoor said, due to the above myths, people don’t seek professional help while going through any mental health disorders,
Emphasizing the fact that mental health disorder is just like any other disease that can be cured, Dr. Kapoor said: “Mental health is just like cold and cough. If you’re not feeling well (mentally), go and see doctors, just like you go and see when you have cold and cough.”
Suppression of expression leads to depression
Highlighting the symptoms of depression and mental health disorders, Dr. Kapoor added that while at times, we all face downtimes in life, but if you’re facing these situations persistently, you should seek professional help:
- You feel like you are not feeling well.
- You have lost interest in your day-to-day activities.
- You are always feeling sad and irritated.
- You are facing difficulty in carrying out day-to-day activities.
- Your family members feel that you’re withdrawing yourself from the family activities.
- You feel restless and tired.
- Change in appetite, eating too much or too little.
- You’re thinking that life is not worth living.
“Mental ill-health is like any other illness. Just like you seek help for other illnesses, you should seek help for your mental health as well. You get help early; you get cured early. Suppression of expression leads to depression. If you have got an issue with yourself, with your community, with your friends, please support them, please support yourself, come forward and seek help. It (mental health) is not a stigma. It’s just like other diseases.” — Dr. Kapoor added.
Work-life balance and mental health in online world
Raising the concern over the impact of being online for everything during the pandemic on work-life balance and mental health, Mr. Sharib added: “During the pandemic, most of the work that used to be offline has moved to online. People are working from home online, students are taking classes online, and almost everything has shifted from “real” to “virtual.” Talking about online classes, while those have given a medium to students to continue their studies even during the pandemic, virtual classes have been hurting the cognitive development of the young students and also leading to a feeling of isolation.”
With her take over this concern and what can we, at societal level, do to improve mental health for all students, Dr. Sadaf shared her advice that in this situation, parents and guardians must make time to sit with the students and play some indoor games, have healthy discussions and polite talks with them to understand their problems. Dr. Sadaf also added that having awareness events where students and elders both can openly discuss their mental health challenges with counselors can go a long way. “You must not hide your issues from your counselors or psychiatrist so that they can understand you better and provide the best possible help,” said Dr. Sadaf.
What is good mental health?
While the definition of “what is good mental health” is highly subjective and depends on what one wants from their life, Dr. Anuttama, followed by Dr. Kapoor and Dr. Sadaf, enlightened us about the state of good mental wellbeing from her personal account on what good mental health means for her:
“Mental health issues are not only limited to those people who are diagnosed with mental illness. This is important for all of us. Even mental health professionals can also have psychological issues… It is important that I feel self-determinism, I have the right to make the choice that I want to make, I am engaging in meaningful works that I want to engage in, I am happy and comfortable the way I am, and I am happy and comfortable by being myself. So, a part of me, which is my being, is comfortable in whichever identity I take up. Another part of me, which is my-doing self, is comfortable in whatever meaningful I am doing. So, mental health to me is a culmination of all these factors.”
It’s okay to feel bad
Talking about the role of empathy and caregivers to handle mental issues during the pandemic, Dr. Anuttama added:
“Inequality in terms of finances, money have actually impacted us greatly… The caregivers will have to be extremely sensitive to understand this greater picture. For example, they have to realize when we say that you have to struggle, you have to be alright, you have to be happy, you have to be positive, as if we are putting the entire responsibility upon the individual. It is not always possible to be positive. There are times when we’d just let down our hair. And it’s okay to feel bad. It’s okay to feel frustrated.”
While explaining the process to acknowledge and tackle the mental health issues. Dr. Anuttama added that “the primary idea is to understand, empathize, and acknowledge (the situation) without being judgemental.” Dr. Anuttama also discussed the most common challenges faced in day-to-day life that lead to depression and how one can naturally tackle those, including financial, educational, and relationship issues.
As Mr Sharib pointed out the takeaway: “Being empathetic is really key to pull anyone out from the (mental illness) situation and give them a comforting arena and surrounding where they can open up well in front of you.”
Mental wellbeing with compassion-based self-care
Next Mr. Shaaib brought into discussion the role of compassion-based self-care in mental wellbeing and how one can go about it. Dr. Anuttama emphasized the role of education in developing compassion for self-care by making a strong :
“In our academics, do we include any chapter where we teach our children to deal with their negative emotion, to develop resilience, to develop coping strategies in the face of crisis?”
Dr. Anuttama also shared her advice on how you can develop compassion for yourself, no matter what the world thinks of you, adding:
“For compassion-based self-care, one thing we have to remember about compassion is I’d not label myself the way I am labeled because the world would not always be fair. The world will discriminate. The world may treat us unfairly, negatively.”
Sharing her views on self-care for children, Dr. Sadaf added: “From the very beginning, we have to guide our children in the right direction. We need to make our children understand that when there is a problem, there is a solution as well.” Dr. Sadaf also shared why it’s important to develop a positive mindset and real-life problem-solving skills in children in the early stages of schooling, adding: “No medicine can heal a negative thinker and no poison can kill a positive thinker.”
The event also provided attendees an opportunity to ask their concerns about mental health from the expert panel and get answers during the live discussion.
What other things should we do to improve our mental health?
One of our audience members asked the above question that Dr. Anuttama so gracefully answered for us:
“Life is abstract. There are so many questions when we grow up and realize that we will never get answers so very easily. The problem lies in the fact that we try to solve everything following the same academic model of problem-solution. Life is not limited to these binaries. (Every problem) is a small chapter of your life. Maybe in your entire autobiography, this (the current problem) will just be one small chapter. You have to move on… Sometimes, you might feel that I am too full with all the problems. I can’t deal with it. Okay, that is your state of mind today. Tomorrow, you might have a better start; you might be in a state to deal with life in a different way. So, take the problem, take the emotional states almost like a fog. Let it come, let it subside, and let you have a clear vision once again.”
When you don’t feel like going out of home
One of our attendees asked: “Sometimes, I don’t feel like going out of my room or speaking to people. I don’t speak to my family members. There is a sense of delusion, and I like staying like that. What should I do to get out of it?”
Addressing this question, Dr. Kapoor added that if once in a while you get that feeling that you want to be alone for a while and need some space for yourself, it is okay. But, if you have a persistent feeling that you want to stay alone, you’re becoming more and more reclusive, you don’t enjoy things you enjoyed earlier, you don’t want to mix in the community and even with your best friends, then that’s a warning sign. And if this feeling of reclusiveness is there on a consistent basis (for more than 2 weeks), that’s the time when you need support to get out of this negativity. Seek support from your near and dear ones in your family and friends, followed by external help if required.
Going on with the discussion, Dr. Kapoor further added a very important mental health issue that we all face in our lives at one point or another and how to deal with that:
“In all our lives, each one of us has goals, an aim in life. When you are not able to meet that aim, whether that aim or goal is related to relationships, whether the aim is academic pursuits, whether it is economic pursuits, whether it is building relationships, whatever aim it is, we all have a goal in life. And when we are not able to attain that goal, then we face two things at that point. One is frustration that we are not able to achieve that we think we should be able to achieve. That frustration gradually can either affect you internally or externally. The internal phenomena lead to depression. It’s very dangerous, and it is recognized a bit later. And it can cause you self-harm when you start feeling that life is worthless, not worth living, and start having suicidal tendencies. That is the time when you need timely support and help. And that help and support you should try to seek yourself. If you are not seeking it, your family members should be aware that these are early signs which could lead to self-harm in the future. At that time, your family should come forward to support you. If you are not able to overcome it with family help alone, then you should go to a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. There is no harm in seeking help. We can call depression or mental health issues a kind of mental flu.”
Adding to the discussion, Dr. Sadaf also shared her views on how addiction to mobile and technology in digital life is causing isolation and a feeling of persistent loneliness. And how guardians, parents, and close friends can support children at home simply by having a frequent discussion and talking about things, i.e., increasing together-time.
Before concluding the event, our guests also shared stories from their personal experiences on mental wellbeing and how they did triumph the situation, lifting the spirit of positivity in the audience.
The event was successful in setting a positive mindset for all the attendees and brought them together with mental health experts to get open and practical advice on how to stay mentally strong, put a timely check on the mental health issues, how to seek help when required, and stay well, mentally. And we hope that the insights mentioned in this event story will help you further to stay ahead on the curve of mental wellbeing and keep depression at bay.
Once again, we here sincerely thank all our esteemed experts who gave away their precious time to grace this event and share their wisdom, advice, and experiences with us all for better wellbeing.
And yes, if you missed the live event, you can still watch the recording here:
Wish you the very best of mental health and joy. Want to add or ask anything? Just start or join the discussion in the comments. Thank you.
One of the 8 billion living on planet Earth, creating and growing everyday in pursuit of an imperfect life, raising livinity, and building one carefree world.