Mental health is one of the most essential but neglected human developmental issues. The growing effort of feminist consciousness in prioritising mental health on the international community or national level makes it possible to implement strategical interventions to reduce inequalities in access to health. It provides a holistic approach to mental health that should be a priority.
Mental Well-being has been included in the broad definition of health by the World Health Organisation (WHO), “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” (WHO 2001, p.1)
Mental health is not simply quoted in the acronym for the absence of disease, but a state of general well-being, influenced by culture, related to enjoying life, coping with stress, overcoming sadness to achieve goals, and maintaining healthy relationships with a positive attitude.
Mental health has been neglected for centuries. It is an inclusive and positive concept of the social and emotional well-being of individuals and communities that reflects a holistic vision of health. Various factors, including biological, psychological, social and environmental effects on mental health, constitute the broad scope of well-being. They interact in complex ways.
Contrary, it also includes a family history of mental health problems, trauma, past experiences of abuse, genes and brain chemistry.
Mental health is vital in all stages of life, from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. Mental health is the foundation of healthy well-being.
Good Mental Health provides a foundation for wellness by realising an individual’s full potential and enhancing work productivity with meaning and significant contribution to communities.
“Mental health is an integral part of the health spectrum regardless of compromise and compensation. It is a necessity to every individual for the overall development of societies as it is more than just the absence of mental illness, associated with behaviour but determined by socioeconomic and environmental factors.
“It can be enhanced by public health interventions, which comprise a collective action with shared values. Yes, mental health is everybody’s need, with a business of well-being.”
Health is included as a notable goal to the global development agendas. It has always been a global priority, with mental health issues included in sustainable developmental goals.
A worldwide concern of rising depression is a primary cause of disability, resulting in more than 8,00,000 suicidal deaths.
The landmark year 2015 was another step towards mental health and wellness through international interventions. The UN Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-30) and the Sustainable Development Goals, 2030 Agenda (SDGs) are the two UN global frameworks that have included mental health, well-being and disability.
Millennium development goals (2000-15) include health as a foremost goal, but mental health was absent from the MDGs and later added into the Sustainable Development Goals (2015-30). Goal 3 of the SDGs ensures healthy lives and promotes well-being for all people of all ages, and clause 3.4 promotes mental health and well-being.
During this period, special measures have been taken to promote mental well-being by protecting the human rights of people affected by mental illness. It also represents a shift from a traditional biomedical approach to mental health since the biomedical model of health focuses purely on biological factors and ignores psychological, ecological and social influences.
Deviating from institutionalised care to a community-based model of care is more effective in meeting the needs of those affected by mental health issues.
In this transition, community-based care has also brought some challenges faced by those who provide care and support to people affected by mental health issues. The concern is showing a certain amount of credibility to caregivers by prioritising their mental needs and contributions.
A research study conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) in 2016, On Pin & Needles, found that adult caregivers are also prone to far-reaching and moderate mental health issues, who provided care to a friend, relatives or family members.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40% to 70% of caregivers have suffered from depression such as emotional distress, anger, sadness, isolation and guilt. Several studies show that the caretakers do not receive care recipients who face social support and quality of life.
A research study by the Indian Journal of Psychiatry in 2014 found the adverse effects on caregiver’s mental health, for example, social isolation, mental health prejudice, financial stress, etc. Their mental health and well-being are unaddressed. Ironically, they deinstitutionalise mental health services but are prone to their health problems.
Interventions, additional services, approaches and strategies such as Mental Health Contact-Based Anti-Stigma Education, Mental health literacy campaigns and peer-based support services that contribute to mental health support need to be highlighted.
Therefore, peer services, as a counterbalance to foster the nonjudgmental, nondiscriminatory practices to provide treatment, has also proven to be quite effective in alleviating the stigma faced by caregivers.
Mental health isn’t viewed in isolation. Intersectionality in mental health is pivotal for cross-cutting the boundaries with gender, caste, disability, conflict, etc.
People of the LGBTQI community still face discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Their rights have been acknowledging in the gender and sexuality discourses, but despite these assertions, they have faced mental issues such as emotional breakdown, lack of rights, guilt, social acceptance, gender dysphoria, etc.
Contrary, men are also expected to validate traditional socially constructed roles and are not associated with any emotional expression that would lead to stress and mental health problems.
Casteism also perpetuates “generation trauma” by birth in the beautifully quoted segregation. It gives a race of privileged and underprivileged from classrooms to occupational inequalities, which leads to anxiety and severe depression. It causes suicidal deaths but always dissociates with well-being in the health sector.
On the other hand, the disabled are traumatised for being different in terms of capabilities but are considered weak by society. Public places are not eco-friendly in terms of accessibility. Mental health and well-being are toxic to people with disabilities if they are not recognised at the centre of an inclusive society.
People living in conflict regions like Kashmir face day-to-day trauma, physical and mental stress. The continuity of violence perpetuates a never-ending cycle of depression, anxiety and pain.
The loss of family members, friends and loved ones bound their capabilities within the turmoil of thoughts and negligence of well-being by the government, who are responsible for creating war zones for the youth of this generation.
The history of racism and discrimination due to colourism that people have been facing for centuries perpetuate chaos, anxiety, severe emotional trauma and isolation.
The most disadvantaged are people of economic instability, including poor agricultural farmers, labourers, factory workers and migrant women who are affected due to their economic status and inaccessibility to get opportunities and the proper utilisation of resources. The financial crisis forced labour participation of female workers also led to depression and anxiety and resulted in suicides.
Today, religious minorities are also affected by the oppression of majoritarianism and the rise of communal politics. Persecution of Muslims, travesty trials, structural discrimination due to identity, humiliations, mob-lynching, witch-hunting of young Muslims, etc., perpetuates trauma, depression and psychological stress on the young generation.
Who will address these issues on a global platform beyond the purview of the nation’s interest? Do we still trace intersectionality in mental health issues and well-being in feminist politics?
Today, mental health issues explore their quintessence in a holistic manner or context rather than giving an overview of symptoms, disease and treatment. Mental health problems are problematic sometimes as it labels mental illness in the “normal” vs. “abnormal” purview within the families, friends circle, school premises, etc.
Mental health needs to be viewed as psychological rather than in the biomedical narrative. Most studies indicate that socio-economically disadvantaged people are more affected by schizophrenia than people of higher socioeconomic status.
Yes, the rights-based mental health and well-being is a feminist agenda to make people aware through feminist intervention programs, feminist consciousness. An intersectional and intersectoral vision of approach that can prevent mental illness implies dealing with systematic inclusiveness by bringing social justice, development, livelihood, physical health and human rights on a single platform.
Mental health acts as hygiene in the self-care journey of an individual — an act of resistance against the world that expected women and men to behave differently in traditional ways.
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” – Audre Lorde.
Individual agency is also necessary for dealing with mental health issues. My experience with anxiety and depression has shown that I neglect the agency aspect of recovery. Without focusing on the role of healing concerning mental health and well-being, it will be useless.
People recommend overcoming depression and anxiety by ignoring your ability and willingness to deal with the process of dying. Talking about my experiences dealing with excruciating pain can be abnormal for people who refuse to accept that mental health is a significant aspect of happiness and a healthy lifestyle.
However, an individual still has control over certain aspects of life instead of blaming certain things. I used to blame myself for the mental illness that put my life astray.
“The feminist agenda of self-loving, care and preservation offer solutions to the problems that comfort each other with solidarity in feminist politics. It means to create the health and well-being of society that will charge them as feminist warriors with self-preservation.”
My illness is a paranormal state of life, but the doctors diagnosed me as a sick patient. I received treatment and medication in my depression phase. Recovery from mental health issues is a slow process that demands time and patience for not giving magical advice but encourages you to be genuine as you are.
“Individual agency acts as a catalyst for the process of healing and recovery in the discourse on mental health and well-being. It is not a linear process rather a fluctuating system of waves, unknown, but an exploration of self by recollecting the pieces of bad memories and coloured with self-love. It is a consciousness of the journey beyond advice and medication.”
Take a quick tour of some of the serious mental health and well-being issues in marriage and motherhood. Patriarchal institutions hardly want to worry about this issue as it is the cause of all kinds of anxiety, trauma and depression.
Traditionally, love marriages are a forbidden sin, while forced marriages are the norm of society. It is an untreated reality of pain, adjustment and compromise. But it is the most neglected area in the personal sphere of married couples as the question of post-marital problems remain on the four walls.
But the feminist agenda challenges the personal space of subjugation, domestic violence, marital rape, intimate partner violence, emotional violence tinged with unrequited love with pain, etc., by asserting that “personal is political”.
However, mothers conjointly suffer from postpartum depression when giving birth owing to various mental and physical health imbalances. According to the World Health Organization, 22% of India’s population faced PPD.
But these days, motherhood is a symbol of care, choice and shared love to embrace the family born from the union of love instead of simply fulfilling the ancestral desire to have more children.
“We have to establish a diverse platform for an inclusive society committed to combating injustice by discovering power from within. It is creative energy for locating the essence of affection in families, a life of singletons, to regenerate power from self.
“It is necessary to understand the process of reproduction, maternal health, responsibilities with parental shared love, instead of romanticising motherhood or considering women as superwomen, pain bearers. Otherwise, it will prevent accepting mental illness, postpartum depression, etc.
“Therefore, we need feminist collective consciousness for sharing commitments to the better future of the individuals, children and society that is free from the mental illness with a healthy lifestyle.”
We are standing in the portal of the 21st century, but the subject of mental health is used with disdain. The feminist agenda continues to fight to bring mental health and well-being into the mainstream. We need to normalise essential discussions of mental health through their implications and manifestations of the experiences by all genders who are affected differently.
Who listens to us? Our stories have faded. Turning grey, dull with pain, but hope rests in the soul that sings a song of better days.
It reminds me of my favourite poet Emily Dickinson’s poem, Hope is the thing with feathers:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops — at all
And sweetest — in the Gale — is heard
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm
I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest Sea
Yet — never — in Extremity,
It asked a crumb — of me.
Yes, mental health and well-being are human rights issues. Research shows mental health problems are not only ignored by ordinary people but also by health professionals and policymakers. They continue to violate human rights by compromising with mental health facilities.
“Feminist agenda seeks everyone attention on the Universal access to quality mental health care, with a focus on human rights.”