We are living in a world which is becoming extremely challenging to live. This is due to various factors. Factors such as recurring pandemics on a global scale, geopolitical unrests, uncertainties related to business environment and changes in the way job and career are shaping. All these events and circumstances have a heavy impact on family health and individual health. Often, the impact on physical health is more pronounced and explicit than on mental health. Consequently, public and private infrastructure, processes and systems have developed to a mature level in most of the developed and developing countries to address such impacts.
Despite burdened by the humongous size of its population, India has done reasonably well in terms of creating healthcare systems (both in public and private sectors) in the primary care, secondary care, tertiary care, specialty and super specialty areas. In the case of Kerala, we can proudly say that the healthcare systems and resources in our state are comparable to the very advanced societies in the West.
On the contrary, we cannot say the same about mental health and well-being aspects of our society. While our country, and especially the state Kerala, has made great strides in terms of basic education and overall human development indices, we are still marred by insane levels of misunderstandings, misconceptions, prejudices, superstitions, and stigma. Our public health systems have in the recent past begun to undertake initiatives to address some of these challenges. For instance, the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 was a landmark legislation that first recognized the rights of a person with mental illness. It also took a giant step by decriminalizing suicide and attempt for the same. Nevertheless, the criticism against the legislation that it lacks teeth to fight the might of the menace is a reality that we cannot ignore.
Focus on the Individual
Given this context, along with the challenges that were discussed earlier, it is all the more important how on an individual level we address mental health and well-being aspects. Enabling and empowering individuals and families to take those primary steps to ensure their own well-being will go a long way in helping our society a little less dependent on the over-burdened and over-worked public and private health systems, at least for minor problems. What are the ways in which we can empower and enable the members of society, both families and individuals? What is the extent of work that is required at various levels to achieve such lofty objectives? Is it even possible to achieve, at least partial success in this journey? Let us examine.
Analyzing the various challenges related to mental health and well-being, we can see that one of the prominent challenges is the lack of awareness. Primarily the awareness that the general public has about various mental health conditions or illnesses and their impact on individuals, families and society at large. Creating awareness thus becomes an important element of sensitizing and empowering the society and individuals towards adopting strategies and techniques to help them to effectively handle situations that can eventually impact their mental health and well-being conditions.
A key point to note is that currently governments and organizations in the non-governmental sector, primarily take such initiatives, or even efforts towards such a goal. There are obviously limitations to such efforts and initiatives. Certainly, for the kind of problems that we see around us, it would necessitate that we have to create awareness at a much larger scale, one that is capable of maximizing the touch points with a large section of our society. When it comes to creating awareness, it is not just about creating awareness about the various mental health conditions, illnesses, disorders or disabilities, but a general awareness about self as well.
Culturally, we are introspective in nature. For many of the problems in our life or at work, we can address them better if we look inwards, analyze the problems objectively and take decisions dispassionately. Individuals who are more self-aware stands a better chance to handle external problems, than individuals who places their locus of control externally. Of course, persons suffering from mental illnesses or mental health conditions, would need a different kind of an approach. However, even in such cases better insights can help them come to terms with their reality in a better way.
When it comes to addressing mental health and well-being conditions at an individual level, one of the key aspects which we discussed is awareness. Second most important aspect would be how an individual copes with different situations, circumstances, life events, or even tendencies that could lead to illnesses. From creating primary awareness about one’s mental health, the progression should go to creating awareness about how to cope with the different problems that one faces. Each person would have different coping mechanisms for various of their problems. For some, meditation would work while for some others, exercise might be the go-to activity when they undergo stress or anxiety or such problems.
Numerous people depend on listening to music that soothes them and help calm their nerves. While many such coping mechanisms or strategies work for a majority of cases, there are instances where individuals need to reach out to others (a dependable friend, mentor or advisor, or even a professional) if the case demands. Any effort towards creating awareness should enable an individual to reach out and seek help, if need be. An ideal situation would be when the society, and hence individuals, considers it normal to seek help when he or she deems necessary.
Third important of aspect of empowering individuals to address mental health and well-being needs is to create a conducive support system, be it at home, at schools and colleges, and at workplaces. Achieving this goal is no mean feat, considering that the awareness levels and dynamics in each of these settings are unique and complex. Nonetheless, the importance of creating the necessary support systems in each of these settings cannot be stressed enough. The positive aspect is that, through structured programs, sensitization methodologies and intervention strategies, coupled with strong stakeholder buy-ins, we can create effective support systems for enabling individual mental health and well-being needs and solutions.
Conclusion – Focus on Hope and Growth
Finally, one of the most important aspects of human life is hope. Man has sustained centuries of challenges and still evolved in his current form only out of hope for a better tomorrow. Society should give people reasons for hope and personal growth. Meeting one’s basic needs is one thing, but human beings are wired to accept challenges and device ways to overcome challenges. Quite true for mental health and well-being as well that, given the right kind of awareness, skills to cope and support systems, individuals stand a great chance to respond very positively.