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Mind Power – A discourse on mental health

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Mental Health is not a very popular topic of discussion. Any deliberation on this is mostly triggered by an unfortunate incident, like what is happening now with the extremely distressing news of Sushant Singh Rajput. The problem is that once the initial frenzy of discussions dies down, this topic usually starts to take a back seat and ultimately gets forgotten.

From definition perspective, mental Health is the level of psychological well being or we can say the level of emotional and cognitive well being of an individual. The state of the mind, in fact, is the very key to how we live our lives and how we react to circumstances. This is not very difficult to fathom. After all, it is our mind that governs our every action. So, if our mind is in a happy state we tend to behave and act in a happy way. Conversely if our mind is in a disturbed state, we act rashly, sometimes violently, and in the worst cases, we act in ways, which harm us or those in our close proximity.

Sadly, this most important tenet of well being is also the vastly neglected. According to a report published by the WHO in October 2019, one in 4 individuals have some form of mental or neurological disorder. In fact, Depressive disorders are already the fourth leading cause of the global disease burden. They are expected to rank second by the end of 2020, behind ischaemic heart disease but ahead of all other diseases. In the new report titled “New Understanding, New Hope” the WHO director general has stated that mental illness is not a personal failure. In fact, if there is failure, it is to be found in the way we have responded to people with mental disorders.

Depressive disorder is a mental health disorder characterised by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life. This is such a common ailment nowadays that in India alone there are 10 million cases per year. The persistent feeling of sadness or loss of interest that characterizes major depression can lead to a range of behavioural and physical symptoms. These may include changes in sleep, appetite, energy level, concentration, daily behaviour & worse of all, the self-esteem. According to research, besides medication, talk therapy also may normalise brain changes associated with depression and can be a very effective treatment.

Talk Therapy in itself is a highly specialised field of psychology and involves a lot of training. However, the crux of this therapy is to have regular interactions with the concerned individual and help him to overcome the negative feelings. This roughly translates to providing a helpful ear to the person and gently guide her/him to overcome the negativity in order to prevail over the situation.

In the current world of globalisation and digitization, human interactions, sadly, have taken a beating. There was a time when people used to wait for weeks and months for one letter of encouragement / information / any news from their loved ones. Then came the glorious period of telephones. The World instantly became small with the advent of this magnificent device which could connect you with anyone anywhere for venting your frustrations or sharing your joys.

Now we are in the age of instant messaging. We do not feel like writing to anyone or even talking, strange acronyms have been invented and a plethora of emojis are supposed to reflect our emotions. Friends don’t see each other or hear each other’s voices, often for years, and still claim to be in touch due to the occasional WhatsApp and Facebook posts. The progress in each other’s lives are measured through Instagram photos and post-crisis well-being are noted from “marked safe” posts in social networking sites. The Human Touch, the Personal Bond, the Physical presence have all been casualties of this technological windfall.

We thus live in a highly connected yet largely lonely world.

Some, who are fortunate, still have the luxury of living with their families and having at least some one to talk to. The rest, who may have traveled to some distant lands for work, or those who have to stay alone due to unavoidable circumstances, do not have that option.

We often criticize youngsters for partying and just having a good time. What we fail to see, is that they too are on the brink of a very difficult future. Soon some of them will go elsewhere, some will slowly start missing get-togethers due to work pressures, some will just themselves go missing due to some complexity or the other. Then all that will be left will be memories of the good times and of course our social networking tools to poke, like and comment. They too will unfortunately become fellow citizens of this lonely world.

Another problem with the digital phenomenon is the need for self-validation. We have become highly conscious on how the world conceives us and become obsessed to make our profiles and posts look dashing. We get anxious on how many likes and shares our posts garner. We get irritated and upset if this falls short of our expectations. We make spontaneous and needless comments on other people’s posts just for the sake of one-upmanship, failing to realise that this conversation will be like a teardrop in the vast ocean of notifications. The only achievement is that we burn bridges with those who had actually been part of our life in some way or the other. And all this to try and look great in the eyes of the social media community who don’t even know or care that you exist.

Concepts like cyber bullying have come up. This indeed is a very serious problem. What however is even more problematic is that this is like a food chain. A person who has been bullied also can be found to bully some one else in some form or the other to demonstrate that they are at a higher ground. This is like an infectious disease and needs to be treated through self-awareness and restraint. Taking a short-term hiatus from social media for mental detoxification may not be a bad idea.

Outside the digital world, a major cause for Depressive Disorder is bullying, in any form. This can happen to anyone at any age. In the past hostel ragging used to be a way of welcoming freshers into the culture of the institute. This was mostly constructive. But somewhere down the line, this got misinterpreted as a way to intimidate and hit the self esteem of the new comers. Several Governments having recognized this as a problem, put forth several preventive rules to deter the perpetrators. However, this phenomenon is not restricted only to the educational institutes. We see this happening in offices, workplaces, film industry, field of sports etc. Here too the cause is more or less the same. One-upmanship, ego, self-validation. The victims can either accept the supremacy of the perpetrators and join their team, or they can hold their ground doggedly and carve their own niche. The latter though very rare, show exemplary character and strong will. The problem is however with those individuals who do not see any way out of the situation. They don’t want to fall in line, neither do they see any ways of holding their ground. They do not have any support system who can lend them an ear or provide well meaning suggestions & mostly they are either far from their families or do not have a comfortable degree of openness with them.  It is this group, that starts to brood over the situation and the negativity starts consuming them.

Another obvious cause is “Failure”, in any endeavor. In an age when success and failure are taken as the measures of your life, failure is not treated as a learning opportunity. Failure is only treated as the ultimate blow to a person’s vision of her/his own life. This can be in a professional or personal sphere. The extent of the depression depends on how much value was assigned to this work, at the time of starting the venture. People have a way of planning what all to do if they succeed in this or that. But what to do if they fail does not constitute a part of this grand plan. This is why, in the unfortunate event of a failure, along with the work, the person themselves also falls flat on the ground!! Of course, they do not have a shoulder to hold on to, in order to break their fall, as remember, “we are living in a lonely world”!

As a society, may be, this can be a good time to start the discourse on the importance of mental well-being. Unless there is a widespread social interaction and acceptance of this issue, this will continue to remain as a taboo or something to poke fun off in parties. People facing these issues, definitely want to interact with others to have some light in their dark thoughts. However, they hesitate, because, we as a society do not want this discussion to happen. There is a constant fear of getting judged or deemed as a nag or nincompoop if they broach this topic of their depressive disorder. So, they continue to live amidst the darkness and sometimes, unfortunately, take brash steps as an ultimate means to end the situation.

It is never too late to start rekindling old connections and friendships, one or two at a time, and start “talking” with each other. Give that personal touch. Don’t be intrusive but provide assurance that wherever you are, you are ready to provide an ear and may be a couple of thoughts, with anyone who needs them. That too without being judgmental about their problems while maintaining confidentiality of the interaction.

When feeling down, it is not at all a sign of weakness if you approach your confidante, your family, close friends, colleagues, with your problems. Rather it points to your courage of having the willpower to sort your problems. It is indeed a sign of a strong character.

Several foundations, NGOs and even Government bodies have set up helplines who are happy to help in such circumstances and keep complete confidentiality of the clients. They are all just a google search away (Yes, digital world is way more than just social networking sites!!).

At the end of the day, life is what we make it to be.

Let’s be responsible towards our society and give each other an opportunity to come out of every situation stronger and more determined.

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