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Understanding Mental Health From A Community Perspective

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“When I was suffering from depression and sleeplessness, I opened up to a friend in one of our conversations. I made myself vulnerable as I was not able to deal with it individually. But he made the situation trivial and dismissed the fact that a person like me, who is active and has a job, could ever have mental health issues. He then went on to tell me that I am overthinking and there is no such thing like depression. Then I sought help from a few of my other friends and they shared similar thoughts that mental health was only a hyped thing and people with popularity had such issues. I was lost and afraid to tell to anyone else. It isolated me from people and the work I used to do. There was no sense of belongingness. I wish I was able to root myself during that time.”

When it comes to mental health, a holistic approach is adopted to understand, treat, and make the prognosis of a psychological issue. Though things keep changing from case to case, one thing that remains constant is “Community”. Community is that part of our emotional and social well-being that helps us in fighting against unwanted problems, assuage our pain when needed, and lend support in our most painful times.

In the above example, we can see the kind of treatment our dear friend was given. Is this how you expect people to treat you when you try to find solace in them? Can you empathise with the kind of pain he would have gone through the whole while? No, you cannot. We say this because we are not raised in a society where mental health is taken that seriously. A society calls out people when they express their emotions or disregard people who staunchly support mental health can never progress collectively.

The irony in our Indian context is that we are the so-called collectivistic society where everybody from your friends to your family to your foes, is situated nearby and you can always reach out to them when in need. The whole idea of a joint family that prevails is to develop that sense of belongingness. But reaching out to people comes with a condition. The condition is that you cannot reveal to them your inner demons, the soft corner that you try to protect by being somebody else entirely on the outside.

The worst scenario is where you by mistake cried about your worries and people asked you to shut up and man up. If this is not insensitivity than what is? I do not think that we are any different from an individualistic society. By now, you all would be a little confused about what is this individualistic and collectivistic society and what are we really trying to portray through this article.

Let me walk you through the traditional difference between these two societies and how they attempt to understand ‘Mental Health’.

Collectivistic Society                                                                            –

Promotes personal growth through interdependence, community togetherness, emotional intimacy and collective good. People may be traditional, firmly rooted, family-oriented, shy, considerate, sharing, impressionable and self-sacrificing. For e.g.- they take care of their parents in old age, are not comfortable to share their feelings
or opinions, etc.

Individualistic Society 

Support personal growth through independence, responsibility, rational thinking and focus on personal benefits. People may be self-sufficient, confident, opinionated, outspoken, progressive and change-oriented. For e.g.- they leave families and venture out for jobs early, they are more open to divorce, etc.

Though the differentiation between them sounds very simple, however, in reality, the concept is very complex in nature. Studies have shown that they may be the cause of poor mental and emotional health. People in individualist society feel lonely without any anchor to hold onto and poor social networks. They feel lost both in their goals and themselves, lack of emotional intimacy and support, stressed and pressured to perform and compelled to prove themselves further adds on to their problem.

People in collectivistic setting lack understanding of boundaries, space and privacy and so continually violate and let others violate theirs. This leaves them unhappy, stressed, disrupted and disgusted all the time. They very self-sacrificing nature creates barriers towards their personal fulfilment and growth. They may be emotionally confused and frustrated. They may feel confined. They may lack accountability.

So ultimately, whichever society you choose, suffering is an integral part. And this is where as a community we need to step up to provide that support which is expected out of us. Here are some measures that the community can take:

  1. A sense of belonging: Most people going through Mental Health issues fail to have a sense of belonging because of stigma and feelings of isolation and loneliness that comes from having a mental illness. A community provides people with a sense of belonging and identity. At the macro level, we can create community reach programs for those suffering from mental health issues to lend them support. And to be up with the micro-level, every institution must involve a mental health professional who can create changes which is more impactful.
  2. Support groups: Communities can provide support to those suffering from mental health issues by creating awareness, providing funding for treatment or therapy, or simply just by giving the person and his/her family social and emotional support. Knowing that there are people who’ll be there for you, provides you with emotional support and makes you feel loved and cared.
  3. Creating awareness: A strong community can help create awareness regarding mental health issues, it can make people more aware of the causes, symptoms, treatment methods of that particular disorder. All this will help in removing the stigma related to mental health issues and perhaps more people will be comfortable opening about their problems and issues with each other.

We have always believed in ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ meaning the ‘World is One Family’. And with the advancement in technology, reaching out to people isn’t very difficult. The distance has shrunk down and mental illnesses can’t be confined to certain societies. A crisis like Covid pandemic, eco-socio-political issues, lack of resources, centralisation of materialism, constant struggle to survive, etc. has made the mental illness pan-globe. Its source, manifestation, intensity, etc. may vary in individualistic and collectivistic societies but the existence of it is there. Depression and anxiety, for example, have increased both in the Western and Eastern parts of the world. We need to take in accounts of what are the skills, strengths and backdrops of both the societies and teach each other to use them as efficiently as possible. For e.g. Western people are turning to India for learning yoga and meditation. While Eastern people like Indians are learning about boundaries and privacy and being aware and accepting mental health as important. It is a good exchange and needs to continue more so that a balanced society can be made and mental health issues can be addressed at the community level. Therefore, if mental health issues never discriminate on the basis of colour, class, religion, sex and sect, then why should we?

(This article is a joint effort by Manasi Baindur, Muskan Mehta and Murali Krishna who are providing online counselling support as part of our ‘Mental Health Internship Program’)

Yo Zindagi is a campaign to promote Mental Health & Emotional Maturity by engaging individuals in conversations and workshop. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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