Each year, the month of July is observed as the National Minority Mental Health Month in the USA. This is done to raise awareness about the unique mental health stressors faced by racial and ethnic minorities living in a white supremacist nation.
Taking a leaf out of America’s book, I reached out to some Indians from marginalised communities, to understand the nature of their mental health struggles. More importantly, I also wanted to shed some light on the resilience of these people.
Being a trans person myself, I am aware of the fact that there is a higher prevalence of mental disorders among the LGBTQIA+ population when compared to non-queer folks. This is not to say that non-minorities don’t deal with mental health issues, but to recognise that minorities have to deal with an added layer of discrimination when it comes to their mental well being.
The term “minority stress“ refers to the stress that arises out of a hostile social environment. This stressful environment is created as a direct result of stigma, prejudice and discrimination against members of minority communities.
Jaimine, a 31-year-old professor from Mumbai and a Bahujan person, opened up about the online abuse he faced during the pandemic. “I was doxxed as recently as June 2021. I was quite disturbed and my self-confidence took a hit when I went through some of the casteist slurs hurled at me and at Dr BR Ambedkar. There was a barrage of abhorrent messages from saffronised trollers.”
Jaimine added that his “caste and political identity could not escape the matrix of social apathy, even during the pandemic.”
Mental health concerns have only gotten aggravated during the pandemic, as people tried to maintain a healthy work-life balance while dealing with the uncertainty of a global health crisis.
Wanting to remain anonymous, a 28-year-old communications professional knows about the woes of working from home (WFH) all too well.
“The pandemic has meant that work and home have become the same space for me. While I recognise that being able to WFH is a privilege in itself, this has been very challenging for me as a neurodivergent person. I need a clear distinction between both the spaces to function smoothly.”
“When you’re a person living with a disability, you not only deal with the limitations of your own body and limitations of the infrastructure, but you also deal with the limitations of other people’s attitude… Living with a disability leaves you with immense self-doubt, less or almost no confidence, and in a bad mental space. You’re always made to feel that you just aren’t good enough,” she rued.
Jaimine has been having a hard time dealing with hustle culture, too. Not only have his sleeping hours been affected, but he also suffers from a situational backache now. “I feel like an ATM (any time mazdoor) who has to attend meetings, calls, excel sheets, etc. at any point of time. The work sphere does not take the mental health of employees into consideration because sab changa si!“, he lamented.
It is important to note that there is more to life than work. As the old adage goes: ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’
So, what about love?
Anonymous said that their social life is almost non-existent now. “Meeting new people was tough for me to begin with, owing to my neurodivergence. Every time you meet someone, you have to get used to all the strangely unique things which make them, them. This can get quite overwhelming. Meeting new people has become doubly tough now. How is one supposed to find the time for love?” they questioned. Anonymous has resorted to talking to their ex-lovers during the pandemic because of the ease that familiarity allows.
Given that life has become tougher for everyone, especially for those from marginalised communities, how does one cope?
Mantrii opted for online therapy. “I am so grateful to my therapist… who helped me understand the larger narrative of my life and disentangle my emotional mess.” Attending a therapy session in person is a tall ask. Mantrii elaborated, “If not for online therapy, I would have been stuck in the same space. I can’t even begin to imagine how someone in a wheelchair or with a visual impairment can think of availing therapy with the current infrastructure!”
While those who can and wish to seek therapy, should seek therapy, it is not accessible to everyone. As Jaimine explained, “Mental health therapies are not affordable because the design of assistance is not laid out for the underprivileged castes and classes. In the Indian context, the caste and class dimensions intersect with each other such that therapy is totally beyond the reach of those located in the lower stratas of this graded hierarchy.”
The 31-year-old has embraced Buddhism. Using Buddhist wisdom, such as practising mindfulness, is one of the ways in which he copes with stressors like toxic family members. Jaimine has also started ignoring “useless official meetings”. He calls it his new superpower.
Anonymous, on the other hand, has sought out community during the pandemic and draws a lot of strength from there. “I am a part of a disabled support group. Engaging with other folks on the spectrum has been extremely empowering. It might sound like a cliché, but having a supportive community has really changed my life, my relationship with myself and my body,” they asserted.