As the occasion of World Mental 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. In alignment with the theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day, on 10th October 2015, we need to focus our attention to reiterate the right for all of us to lead a life with dignity, compassion and respect for all mankind.

The Need for Sensitization

To realize the widespread extent of mental illness, all you need is to take a glance at some facts and figures. 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. 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. Moreover, the consequences of undiagnosed or untreated mental disorders could be severe, influencing the physical, social functioning as well as overall health outcomes. In addition to the health and social costs associated with mental health, those suffering from mental illnesses are also victims of human rights violations, stigma and discrimination, both inside and outside psychiatric institutions. Furthermore, ignorance also breeds indifference in our society, as bystanders become more apathetic. 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.

Dignity and Mental Health

In India today, we need to acknowledge mental health not just as a stigmatized aspect of our society, but as an integral part of our health and well-being. Despite the increasing efforts, mental health is still largely shrouded by myths in a majority of the population. While we do need to reiterate the need for human rights oriented policies, it is more important for all of us as individuals to come forward and take up the responsibility of removing stigma from the society at large. As an individual unit of the society, it is we people who form the grass-root of such issues, and therefore, if we can become more sensitive to the rights and needs of others, it will lead to a surge of change across all levels of society. Dignity is simply the way we feel, think and behave in regard to how we values ourselves and others. In order to treat others with dignity, it is equally important to take into consideration who we are and what we ourselves believe in, which in turn helps shape our behaviour and attitude towards others. Labelling a person with a mental illness is simply unfair, as mental illness is as biological as a physical illness, requiring empathy and support from others. Besides discriminating against mental illnesses, there are many instances in our daily lives when our own or another person’s dignity could be compromised, which we might not tend to notice. For instance, bullying, in a physical or verbal form, makes the person feel terrible about oneself and about the world. Often unruly comments or judgements made through the social media could be invading one’s privacy and sense of dignity. Even when we make comparisons with others, think stereotypically, impose ourselves on others, etc., we are infringing the dignity of others. Unless we begin to sensitize ourselves to the thoughts, feelings and values of the other people around us, it is not possible for us to respect their dignity, and in return we cannot earn their respect and prevent an infringement of our own rights and feelings as well. As a society, we need to develop an empathy towards others, and celebrate individual differences, refraining from generalizing and showing respect and concern for oneself and others.

The Way Forward

The need of the hour today, besides striving to free our society from the clutches of stigmatization, is to strongly advocate the preventive as well as curative aspects of mental health. The best model to build is an integration of private-public partnerships, so we all could join forces 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 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.

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