Lessons from 2020: Making mental health a priority in India

Economic sustainability is crucial, but if the pandemic has taught us anything, focusing purely on capitalist metrics such as profitability at the cost of humanity, happiness, and peace of mind can be catastrophic

Anisha Padukone
Updated: Dec 29, 2020 05:51:49 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

Of all the lessons we have learned this year, the most important, possibly, is to focus on aspects of our lives that we have been taking for granted. While physical health and well-being certainly top the list of things we must pay attention to, there is no better time to address the other equally important priority: mental health.

It is impossible to ignore the fact that the pandemic has intensified feelings of distress. On the one hand, loneliness and isolation can have debilitating effects on our morale, while on the other, the constant fear and uncertainty leaves us feeling helpless. There are few things more distressing to the human psyche than a complete loss of control, and the Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to take stock of our resources in such challenging experiences.

Although this year has seen the rapid emergence of mental health into public discourse, there is a lot more that needs to be done. Unfortunately, partly due to ignorance and primarily due to apathy, we remain grossly unprepared to tackle the fallout of a mental health crisis. From a shortage of mental health professionals and gaps in training to a society still riddled with stigma, the challenge is vast. Awareness remains focused on urban areas and, more specifically, to the digitally empowered, and while that can be considered progress, it is certainly not enough. Mental health has significant implications for the human race, just like climate change, security, and sustainability, and therefore it needs to be treated with the same importance.

As most countries currently do, spending a minuscule portion of health budgets on mental health is not a display of urgency or intent. As we move into the new year, it may be more useful to reflect on community-driven impact solutions and opportunities. As with any transformation, the real impact comes from a systemic change that needs to be consistent and sustained over a prolonged period. Mental health interventions need to recognise individual distress, but they need to do so with the collective interest of a society invested in well-being.

Given the sheer enormity of the challenge, mental health needs to be a collective priority, with stakeholders at every step of the chain taking responsibility to contribute effectively. For instance, in the corporate sector, employee mental health must be on the boardroom agenda, even after the risk of physical illness diminishes either because of the vaccine or other changes. Companies should invest in their employees' psychological well-being because it is the right thing to do. A robotic focus on productivity has only hastened a decline in our mental health; continuing that approach could prove to be disastrous.

Technological development means that we have more ways than ever before to monitor, measure, and track mental health outcomes. While treatment design and delivery remain a human-centric function, organisations should embrace technology to offer continuous support. From a policy standpoint, this may help incentivise social enterprises or technology startups with mental well-being at the heart of their model. If financial sustainability is a specific reservation, it is essential to consider that several companies have proven that impact, sustainability, and a healthy balance sheet are not mutually exclusive. It just takes intent and creativity.

When we talk about holistic change, it can be easy to fall into the usual trap of focusing on business, government, and the development sector, but the shift required is more comprehensive than that. Consider the design of our academic curriculum across age groups, for example. We need to look at how these models serve our youth and whether they are equipping them with the appropriate resilience-building techniques if ever they are faced with a distressing life situation.

This phase is an opportunity to ask uncomfortable questions and make the changes that will serve us for generations. A narrow-minded approach to damage control is going to be ineffective in the long run. Economic sustainability is crucial, but if the pandemic has taught us anything, focusing purely on capitalist metrics such as profitability at the cost of humanity, happiness, and peace of mind can be catastrophic. Acting with urgency is not just a practical alternative but a prerogative for us to progress as individuals, communities, and nations.

The writer is CEO of The Live Love Laugh Foundation, a charitable trust set up in 2015 to give hope to every person experiencing stress, anxiety, and depression

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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