Mental health: Can we go beyond merely talking about it?

In recent years, there is increased awareness and acknowledgment of the importance of maintaining emotional and mental balance to function in a high-strung world

By Asha Iyer Kumar

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Notes from students expressing support and sharing coping strategies paper a wall, as members of the Miami Arts Studio mental health club raise awareness on World Mental Health Day, on October 10, 2023. Photo: AP
Notes from students expressing support and sharing coping strategies paper a wall, as members of the Miami Arts Studio mental health club raise awareness on World Mental Health Day, on October 10, 2023. Photo: AP

Published: Sun 10 Dec 2023, 11:50 PM

Last updated: Mon 11 Dec 2023, 5:56 PM

When Covid and its evil accomplices lifted the veil of stability off my life, and the medical benefits that come with a job vanished, I lost the luxury of falling sick beyond a common cold or flu. Since then, I have been subsisting on a baseline insurance, often shelling out insane amounts for little emergencies. The burden of illness became too heavy to bear with no one to pay the bills and the first thing that I put my money on when things started to look up was an insurance that would allow me to confidently walk into a clinic for a consultation.

“Does it cover psychiatry?” I asked the spouse when the proposal for the new insurance came.

“No.”

Now that was a bummer. I wanted psychiatry on the list, especially after going through two rounds of Major Depressive Disorder in the past seven years following a personal loss, and my serotonin levels showing signs of dipping once again. But I am told that it would cost me an arm and a leg to get a cover for my head. Sanity is on the ebb all around, and yet there is no clear way to insulate our inner shelves from the onslaught of mental diseases caused by new age pressures.

In recent years, there is increased awareness and acknowledgment of the importance of maintaining emotional and mental balance to function in a high-strung world. Probably there are many more discourses taking place now than before to address this new scourge in human lives, but something seems to be lacking in the whole script about tackling mental health issues. Prohibitive costs, especially in this part of the world, is only one of them.

As per the World Health Organisation (WHO), “depression is one of the leading causes of disability. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. People with severe mental health conditions die prematurely – as much as two decades early – due to preventable physical conditions”. The statistics here only highlight how poor mental health has a direct link to our longevity and how life gets truncated even without us knowing it.

We either dismiss our psychological turbulences as ‘passing phases’ or as ‘imagined issues’ and normalise it as ‘part of modern life’. Homogenisation of a problem doesn’t make it go away or limit its danger. The problem needs to be categorised as an illness akin to other fatal diseases; its causes need to be dissected and explained, and ways to combat it made clear to us, without which writings, discussions and debates will look cursory with no desired results.

Mental health goes for a toss for various reasons. The downslide can be triggered by anything from individual tragedies to shared human misfortunes. From the loss of a dear one, a traumatic personal experience, to untold miseries of war and poverty, to oppression in relationships and failures of every mentionable kind — no experience in life can be classified as less or more severe, and no one is steely enough to escape from it unscathed.

Each day brings with it a new set of challenges given our propensity to fight, compete, win, excel at all levels and survive, and it is not easy to remain unfazed in the face of it all. The ordeals are alike, give or take a few, but that doesn’t make us all equal in our capacity to handle them.

How many of us can accept the prospect of dying young because of an invisible, unspoken, ignored and stigmatised condition of the mind?

Mere talks and reiterations about mental health alone will not help. Even experts can only suggest coping mechanisms that will contain our despair and not offer lasting solutions to our life’s seamless problems. It might sound like philosophical platitude, but the truth is this — our angst arises from a deeper place which we have not looked into. Into that space we must dive and know what causes our fear and anxiety. We need to figure what brings us true happiness, even if it is for fleeting moments, and strive to seize them from the eternal flow of time.

We can approach depression and anxiety clinically and seek medicinal remedies, but the real, long-term fix will come from knowing what we essentially want out of life and finding it. The kind of mental pandemic we are witnessing is caused by a gaping hole in our hearts, which we are at pains to fill with the wrong things, probably. We are an awfully confused lot and the kind of clarity we now need will come only when we stop taking our inner space for granted. We need to untangle ourselves and clear the cobwebs. For starters, let’s stop indulging in cloying optics and solemnly ask: Where does my happiness lie? What is my ikigai?

(Asha Iyer Kumar is a Dubai-based author, columnist and children’s writing coach)


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