by Dr Praveen Aggarwal
India is one of the youngest nations in the world with more than 54% of the population below 25 years of age. There are natural expectations arising from the young who are expected to possess greater energy and aspirations, important drivers for a thriving economy. However, the burden of expectations is also the root cause of anxiety and depression—at any age. Adam Smith, father of economics, noted many years ago that much of human behaviour is driven by the need to earn social approbation. “Man, naturally desires not only to be loved, but to be lovely; or to be that thing which is the natural and proper object of love,” wrote Smith in his book “The theory of moral sentiments.” But the whole process of excelling, doing things better, thinking out-of-the-box, recover what’s lost, pushing the benchmark every day, and then repeating the same exercise the next day is likely to aggravate burnout, stress, anxiety, depression, friction at workplace and home. During covid, the sense of normalcy was tested as we moved to contactless times. Now the pressure is to build back. Certainly, we are not living in normal times, and it’s quite okay to not feel okay.Mental health is one of the most under-recognised health issues. It is something we are supposed to sort out ourselves, and this lack of help or absence of communication or acknowledgement, adds to the stress. In a country of 1.3 billion, that’s facing a dual disease burden, or the prevalence of communicable diseases along with a spike in non-communicable diseases (NCDs), or lifestyle diseases like diabetes, stroke, hypertension, kidney, liver and heart diseases, mental health take a backseat, simply because it doesn’t “look” like a crisis. But if the same stress impacts our everyday life, and especially our work life, the financial implications start telling on our well-being in various ways.
People in India who suffer from mental health are typically taken to temples and shrines rather than doctors. The lack of acceptance of the problem, understanding and sensitivity regarding the issue is among the main factors contributing to poor outcomes. People suffering from mental health disorders feel isolated, or face the threat of being labelled by society with uncomplimentary tags. Even within families, such issues are pushed on the back burner. This sets in a vicious cycle of isolation, agony, and shame, instead of the empathetic treatment that’s needed.
In India, historically, we shared a home with joint families, and mental health problems were rare. People reported having low levels of stress, worry, and sadness because they felt a sense of solace with their families, communities, and cultures. With increased urbanisation and cost of living spiralling, social ties are dissolving fast. There is greater pressure than ever to earn more, acquire more, and excel more. As a result, mental health issues are rising. Worries of inflation and the Ukraine crisis have been among the top global concerns in What Worries the World survey. An analysis by McKinsey points out that the pandemic might have led to a 50% increase in behavioural health conditions. Issues of mental health have been spotlighted with greater frequency ever since the covid storm started, with the adage “no health without mental health” gaining greater currency now.
Mental health requires a continuum of healthcare approach, and triggers should be seen and corrected early on. Raising mental health awareness in the form of public campaigns will bring such issues out of the closet, and be discussed in normal ways like any other health concern. With increased awareness, early detection, access to treatment, and the adoption of preventive measures, outcomes will improve in the long run.
While one can always turn to a therapist if things are sliding, prevention is much better. You can control the signs of depression and anxiety, enhance your well-being, and maintain good mental health by eating well, exercising frequently, getting enough sleep, and abstaining from dangerous amounts of alcohol and other substances.
Right, now we are seeing increased activity in all fields, buffeted literally by the waves of people yearning to emerge from the shadows of covid-19. In life, there are “sliding door” moments (like in the Gwyneth Paltrow movie Sliding Doors) where pivotal decisions make you who and what you become eventually. Even the first baby steps seeking a change are signs of a move in the right direction.
Dr Praveen Aggarwal, Co-Founder Consocia Advisory.
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