In today’s times, while many of us do take out the time from our hectic schedules to pay attention to our physical health, such efforts are not so evident towards our mental health. For instance, imagine a situation when one is physically unwell, there is a greater likelihood of the person consulting a physician, getting investigations to identify the underlying cause, and even taking leave from work. However, consider a similar situation in terms of one’s mental health. If one is being unable to cope with the stressors, and is having difficulty in working, how likely is such an individual to seek help, to reach out to a mental health professional in order to identify the cause, and manage these symptoms more adaptively, and even take leave from work? Very bleak. In fact, there is a much greater likelihood of such a person simply waiving off his or her experience as a bad day, and to try and move on, facing the challenges of the next day.

Awareness about Mental Health

As the occasion of World Health Day approaches, it becomes important for us to think about the status of mental health in our country today. With the advent of the first ever National Mental Health Policy declared recently, the widespread stigmatization of mental health related conditions has been clearly recognized. However, despite the growing awareness and realization, there still remains a wide gap to be filled in to ensure adequate support and services for all.

It is appalling to see the epidemic rates at which mental illnesses are on the rise today. In fact, it is predicted by the World Health Organization that 20% of India’s population will suffer from some form of mental illness by the year 2020. With our increasing dependence on technology over the past couple of decades, it is not surprising to note a social deprivation, as we tend to rely more on social media being given preference over more personal and direct forms of social interactions. This in turn, further aggravates social alienation, thereby leading to an increase in bystander apathy. With the unprecedented increase in crime rates, corruption as well as surmounting unrest among the population, there is ample evidence to show the need to focus on the needs of promoting mental health and psychological well-being today.

Overcoming Challenges

Despite the increasing efforts, mental health is still largely shrouded by myths, with a large cross-section of the society being discriminated against. Further, it is these issues which further breed hesitancy and reluctance towards seeking professional help. Moreover, fear of such a stigma further prevents the timely identification and reporting of mental illnesses. The consequences of undiagnosed or untreated mental disorders could be severe, influencing the physical, social functioning as well as overall health outcomes. Furthermore, ignorance also breeds indifference in our society, as bystanders become more apathetic.

However, at the same time we do need to acknowledge the signs of increasing acceptability, as we witness a greater number of people who are now willing to reach out to a mental health professional, for a wide range of problems including not just adverse life circumstances or emotional or adjustment issues, but also for more severe mental disorders including psychosis.

The need of the hour

Besides striving to free our society from the clutches of stigmatization, the need of the hour is to strongly advocate the preventive as well as curative aspects of mental health. We all should come together to work towards targeting the very grass-root levels, and help make a difference in the community at large. The biggest achievement towards such a goal of de-stigmatization would be to ensure widespread awareness about mental illnesses amongst the general population, to be able to overcome the reluctance associated with mental health and thereby encourage reporting as well as seeking help. At the same time, we need to promote an adequate training and empowerment of parents, teachers, social workers, staff and all those first-line workers actively engaging with children and adolescents, to be able to have the earliest identification as well as timely interventions for the young minds who shall form the future of our country.

Therefore, it is important to realize that with adequate and timely identification as well as interventions, we could empower ourselves with prevention of mental illnesses, and millions of people suffering from mental illnesses could actually be reached out to, and with appropriate assistance and support could be helped to be able to have an adequate personal, social as well as occupational functioning. As a final word, I think we have a three-fold responsibility towards the future of mental health in our nation today – spreading a widespread awareness, creating sensitivity within ourselves, and building a preventive approach to be able to reach out to all sections of the community.

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