Being Mindful by Eman Khan
In this fast-moving, highly competitive rat race of modern life, people are constantly under tremendous amounts of stress and responsibility to sustain themselves and their families. While trying to keep up with the constant struggle, people at least try to ensure they are physically fit enough to keep going. However, in this race between mind and body, mind unfortunately comes last. Mental health is not seen as important; or worse, it’s viewed as a luxury that only a chosen few have the time to think about, especially in the community that I belong to. Even mentioning mental distress is considered as taboo. To make things worse, nature threw us an unforeseen challenge. When the pandemic struck, a lockdown was announced to contain it. Being optimistic as we are, most of us thought that it will just be a matter of a week or two. But not all things go our way. The situation just kept getting worse and living in denial was the go-to solution for those privileged enough. As the uncertainty started creeping in, we had to deal with so many unanswered questions like what about my studies? What about my job? When will I get to meet my friends again? What if my loved ones or I get infected? What about my plans? Amidst all the unanticipated inner turmoil, mental health was bound to take a hit that we were grossly unprepared to take.
As for my own story, when things started spiralling out of control, I got more conscious and aware of my mental well-being and how it had suddenly been attacked. My anxiety levels skyrocketed and keeping myself busy seemed like the only way to get through, one day at a time. It took a lot of strength to accept that if we are powerless to change the situation we are in, we have to adapt to it and make do with what we have got. It all started by being grateful for having access to basic necessities as well being connected to my friends over the internet. But being privileged comes with its own burden of guilt. Getting involved in social work and experiencing the “helper’s high” while interacting with like-minded people determined to give back to society helped me get through the toughest phases of the lockdown. However, I do realise that not everyone is so lucky.
A significant proportion of the Indian population are living with high levels of anxiety and stress in these uncertain times. From students to officegoers, from frontline workers to homemakers—all have been struggling to find a balance. The importance of taking care of mental health is more evident now than ever before. A healthy body follows a healthy mind. I would like to point out here—mental health is more than just the state of absence of mental illness. It includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Sadly, with the ongoing pandemic, India is accelerating towards a mental health epidemic. Due to the stigma around mental health, it is one of the most neglected aspects of our health today. Absence of qualified and approachable therapists and counsellors is another major reason behind this growing epidemic. A study by National Care of Medical Health states that at least 6.5 per cent of the Indian population suffers from some form of serious mental disorder. Increased expectations, pressure from all fronts, the inability to question, gender stereotypes, and no facility for dialogue or discussion surrounding health are just some of the other reasons behind growing cases of mental health issues in India, some of which are depression, anxiety, autism, dementia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and ADHD. According to WHO, the alarming rates of 17.8 suicides per 100,000 people in 2016 shows the catastrophic handling of mental health issues in India.
There is a pressing need to bust myths about mental health to change public perception through clear and transparent dialogue. Some of the myths stigmatizing mental health go something like: “one can ‘move on’ and ‘get over’ mental problems” or “battling mental problems are a sign of ‘personal failure’ and is something to be ashamed of”. We often fail to realise that having a mental illness is as common as a physical illness and should be perceived and treated with the same dignity. After all, mental health is undoubtedly a human rights issue.
According to experts, one needs to be mindful when it comes to ensuring mental health, especially in such times of distress. Instead of neglecting it, accepting the need to care about your mind like you care about your body can be a good first step in the right direction. Instead of keeping everything bottled up, it is better to let it all out and communicate with your near and dear ones, as well as your colleagues and peers to ensure a safe and trusting environment for all, especially in today’s work from home scenario. Exercising allows the body to function properly and gives a sense of positivity and good energy that is essential for supporting mental and physical health. Keeping your mind active through learning and experiencing new things that one finds interesting can be a fun step towards mindfulness. Eating right positively impacts our brain functions too—hormonal and biochemical imbalances can be prevented or managed by adopting a balanced diet. Helping others and experiencing the joy of giving leads to validation of one’s efforts and the feeling of having accomplished something meaningful by touching another life positively. This leads to happiness and emotional stability. Pursuing hobbies are a great way to bust stress and get in contact with your old, real self in this busy, fast-paced world. People around the world have been adopting such techniques in their self-care routine.
We accept a fever and the common cold as something completely natural and normal to suffer from and don’t think twice before popping a pill for the same. People are still more afraid of the coronavirus while ignoring deteriorating mental health, which has been costing us innumerable lives for far too long. When it comes to our mind, we try to outrun it, wondering what others will think of us, how it will affect our image, and other such superficial arguments that only stop us from taking care of ourselves. Just like physical illness, mental illness is a part of being human and can impact anyone. It should not be overlooked or undermined. It is our right as humans to seek medical help when we need it and live a normal life, on our own terms, because any person is bigger than their disorder. Mental problems should not define and dictate an individual’s life.
To the reader, I would like to say, if you are not feeling mentally healthy, talk to your loved ones, seek professional help, and fight your issues because you cannot give up on yourself. A disorder is just that: a disorder. It is not your life, just a part of it, and it is not your fault. With proper help it can be successfully controlled or completely overcome. If you are someone who is close to a person suffering from mental problems, be patient, read about their issues, do not ask them to snap out of it, be there to listen and ensure the person feels safe and secure to open up in your company, convince them to seek professional help, and reassure that you will be there no matter what. While providing support, be sure to care about your own mental well-being too.
There is an urgent need to start a detailed and open dialogue on mental health and its varied aspects because of the prejudice and taboo surrounding it, which is highly ingrained in the Indian society. Schools, colleges, workplaces, healthcare providers, the State, and society all have to work in tandem to ensure mental health is no longer neglected, but the focal point of all activities and communications. The time to act is now. We may get a vaccine for Covid-19 soon, but there will never be a ready-made solution for the diverse number of mental health disorders. As I conclude, I would like to emphasize that it is okay to not feel okay, to have bad days, to make mistakes, to be less than perfect, to do what’s best for you, and to be yourself. Make your mental health a priority, treat it as your right and mind your mind!