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Can Caste Discrimination Affect Mental Health?

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Mental health is not just an indicator of an individual’s neuropsychological health, it is also influenced by a variety of external factors, like their social and interpersonal relationships and their interaction with their larger environment. Individuals belonging to caste minorities who face discrimination, rejection, and prejudice in various aspects of life have increased difficulty in forming a harmonious relationship with society, which places strains on their mental health and self-perception.

A study by Mathias K et al found that people belonging to caste minorities are 3 times more likely to suffer from depression.

a guy sitting on a bench in a park
Representational image.

Imposed low caste stigmatised identity on one from a young age can have a very negative impact on an individual’s self-esteem and identity. Students belonging to lower caste backgrounds display higher rates of self-criticism and negative self-evaluation. In addition to this rigid negative self-evaluation, they are also less likely to praise themselves and taker credit for their own success and attribute the credit to external factors like good luck, classmates and, etc.

This internalised self-discouraging mechanism has detrimental impacts on their self-esteem and confidence. Deeply embedded lack of belief in self also contributes to an increase in social anxiety, due to which people belonging to marginalized castes are more likely to avoid certain social situations where there is a possibility of failure.

Due to the stigmatised negative information and prejudice they face, individuals belonging to lower caste backgrounds are also more self-conscious and sensitive to criticism, as they give higher importance to others’ opinion and judgement of them. Being rejected by a peer group results in anger and aggression, which can lead to negative emotional and behavioural outcomes.

Hence, India’s caste minorities face a number of factors like critical self-evaluation and image, increased levels of social anxiety, and many more psychological strains that can have detrimental impacts on their mental health and self-esteem. In order to change the mindset of society, we need to break down the existing stigma surrounding the caste system. Areas like workplaces and schools need to be safe and inclusive environments, where people don’t face discrimination and have access to equal opportunities and resources.

Providing children with recognition and praise in school to improve their self-esteem can be a big step towards ensuring the above issues don’t prevent them from learning and achieving success. Everyone should have access to mental health services, especially those at higher risk of suffering from disorders like depression and anxiety.

Taarini Mittal

REFERENCES
Jiloha R C. (2010) Deprivation, discrimination, human rights violation and mental health of the deprived. Indian J Psychiatry, 52:207-12
Ramaiah A. (2007) Dalits’ psychical and mental health: status, root causes and challenges.
Pande N., Tripathi R C. (1982) Scheduled caste children in high caste schools. Durganand Sinha (ED) Deprivation: its social roots and psychological consequences.
Varma V K. (1992) Social disadvantage, mental health and social justice. Indian J Soc Psychiatry; 8(3-4) :8-12
Mathias K. et al (2015) Cross-sectional study of Depression and Help-Seeking in Uttarakhand in North India. National Library of Medicine; 5(11):e008992
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