The 10th of October is observed as “World Mental Health Day” every year. It was declared by the Federation of Mental Health, back in 1992. This organization played a pivotal role to make the common person understand the critical difference between ailment and insanity, through a lot of movements and seminars. There have been a number of themes, on this subject, where top scholars and researchers debate on and speak of the advancement, in general, and technological aspects, for the treatment of a person who is mentally ill. As such, the theme for World Mental Health Day, this year is “Dignity in mental health.”
There are a lot of misconceptions and taboos when it comes to a person with mental ailment. As a result of this, they endure a lot of pain, at an emotional level. Other factors, that cause this problem to patients, in general, is the lack of professional help and lack of support from family and friends. There have also been various bills passed by the Indian legislative assembly to ensure that the people are not deprived of their rights, on the basis of ailments. It is thereby imperative to realize how, we as an educational organization, a community or an individual, can extend our attention, respect and care towards people in need.
We spoke to Miss Ashwini N V, Research Scholar in Psychology and Assistant Professor at Jain (Deemed-to-be University), to enlighten us further with insights on mental health and help us understand our role towards improving the society for this noble cause. Here is what she had to say, to our questions on World Mental Health Day.
1. The World Mental Health day is on 10 October 2015. As a research scholar in psychology, what is your opinion on the relevance of such days?
While I believe each day is a good day to start and strive to create awareness about mental health and be supportive of actions taken in favor of promoting the cause, I am also very positive about the relevance of observing days such as World Mental Health Day for the following reasons.
Symbolic beginnings may snowball into something bigger: It must be noted that World Mental Health Day was first conceptualized in the year 1992 by the World Federation of Mental Health (WFMH) and endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO). At present, WFMH has members and contacts from over 150 countries committed to promoting among all nations the highest possible level of mental health in its broadest biological, medical, educational, and social aspects. Therefore, when WFMH and WHO call for observing World Mental Health day, nations get persuaded to do their bit even if it is in a tokenistic manner. The relevance of these days becomes prominent when these symbolic actions will snowball into something bigger and better, which eventually may make a significant contribution to promoting mental health in these regions.
Diversity of themes: Considering that each year a different theme is chosen, it helps organizations and nations to concentrate on the issues that these themes raise and encourage them to address the same. This year’s theme is ‘Dignity in mental health’, some of the recent past years’ themes have been ‘Living with schizophrenia’, ‘Mental health and older people’, ‘Depression: A global crisis’. These themes, otherwise neglected got their due acknowledgment in many nations because those were the themes chosen for World Mental Health day.
Focused efforts at multiple levels:‘Mental health’ is a cause that requires sustained efforts at many levels – education, awareness, and advocacy. A yearlong effort beginning with World Mental Health day facilitates this requisite.
It promotes collective and collaborative spirit: Days like this pave way for collaborative initiatives between individuals, departments of governments, organizations, and nations given the common goal elicited by a common theme.
Positive consequences of the symbolism of days such as World Mental Health day is the reason why I support them and find it relevant.
2. The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day is ‘Dignity in mental health’. In India, how can we achieve this?
The theme ‘Dignity in mental health’ is very relevant in the Indian context where stigma regarding mental health is immensely persistent. I believe stigma and dignity are inversely proportional. ‘Dignity’ that translates to respecting and recognizing one’s worthiness cannot be achieved where ‘stigma’ prevails. So, eradicating stigma on mental illness among people should be the first step. Some of the practical steps to decrease stigma regarding mental illness that I suggest are as follows:
» Introducing the topic of mental hygiene from a very young age to students in schools and homes. Encouraging open discussion on the topic of mental illness, health, and wellness at all levels of education.
» Sensitizing and encouraging empathetic interaction of public in general with those people who they know are experiencing issues with mental health whenever feasible. Strategic public campaigning regarding this is the need of the hour.
» Encouraging popular media to be well informed and sensitive in their depiction of mental illness.
» Bringing policy-level changes for the humane treatment of the mentally ill based on the human rights perspective.
Unless we aim to remove the stigma attached to mental illnesses from the mindsets of people, deprivation of basic human rights will continue to be a predominant experience among the mentally ill in India or in any country for that matter.
What role can universities play in spreading the message of “Dignity in mental health”?
One of the hallmark features of Universities is that they offer a space for the coming together of learners; mostly youth of various backgrounds. This interface between students from various backgrounds gives rise to a synergistic mood which when channelized strategically could contribute immensely to spread any message. The first step that the Universities should take is to encourage students and faculty alike to seek help from mental health professionals if they are facing any mental health issue. This could be followed by providing them the adequate support by competent and sufficient number of mental health professionals within the system to address these issues. Days like World Mental Health day can also be observed solemnly in Universities, as it is likely to drive home a perspective that mental health matters and so does dignity in mental health care.
Secondly, Universities could act as connectors between students and society by sensitizing and encouraging student community to spread the message of ‘Dignity in mental health’ to the rest of society. The means could be through distributing pamphlets to the general public, doing street plays, shooting short films, utilizing social networking sites to spread the message, having intercollegiate fests on the themes pertaining to human rights. Other means could be encouraging the sensitized and knowledgeable students and faculty members to engage with media outlets to promote the cause of dignity in mental health care.
4. What role does education play in creating the requisite awareness among the masses to respect the rights of a person with mental health issues?
Educational activities promoting awareness on the topic of respecting the rights of a person with mental health issues is fundamental but may not be sufficient in order to bring about an attitudinal change among the masses. It must be noted that ‘awareness’ is fundamentally a cognitive activity. In order to bring about changes in the attitude of people on the matter of ‘Dignity in mental health’, we must bring about both cognitive and emotional change of perspective. I think it can only happen when one is taught the skill of empathy.
5. What is your take on the legislation of mental health?
Legislation on mental health is too broad an area. I shall comment on that pertaining to the rights of persons with mental illness. As per the information on www.prsindia.org, a web portal, which tracks various national bills and does legislative research, Mental Health Care Bill 2013 was introduced because the Mental Health Act of 1987 did not protect the rights of persons with mental illness nor promote their access to mental health care adequately. According to the new bill:
Every person shall have the right to access mental health care and treatment from services run or funded by the government. The right to access mental health care includes affordable, good quality and easy access to services. Persons with mental illness also have the right to equality of treatment, protection from inhuman and degrading treatment, free legal services, access to their medical records, and complain regarding deficiencies in the provision of mental health care. (http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/the-mental-health-care-bill-2013-2864/) If the implementation is to match with the spirit of these words, this is a much-needed change.
6. The students of this generation are more susceptible to emotional breakdowns due to many factors. Are there any tips or suggestions for improving a person’s emotional/mental health?
I would like to list a few quick tips for improving a person’s emotional/mental health using the acronym ‘BALANCE’
» Being in the present as much as possible
» Awareness of one’s own strengths and areas which requires improvement
» Letting go of unreasonable expectations from self, others, and world
» Assertiveness – This ensures one doesn’t violate other’s rights and let other’s violate one’s rights
» Nurturing resiliency in oneself and others
» Congruency in thoughts, feelings, and actions as much as possible
» Engaging in actions where we grow and support others grow
What is your message to our readers on the World Mental Health Day?
My message to the readers on this World Mental Health day is – let us prioritize mental health, our own and those of others around us. Providing unconditional positive regard to those experiencing mental health issues and bringing in ‘Dignity in mental health’ does two things. First, it creates a better world for these individuals and second, it increases our own dignity when we treat others with the same.