Everyone is at the risk of developing a mental health disorder irrespective of age, sex, or income. Amrita Tripathi, who has co-authored ‘Young Mental Health’ with Meera Haran Alva, says the book has covered some experiences and expert views that can help people learn how to talk about mental health and disorders in a less complicated way.
On a similar note, Meera Haran Alva feels that acknowledging our own mental health and making it safe for those around us to able to talk and share their concerns is the first big step that can make a huge difference going forward.
Here are excerpts of an exclusive interview with authors of ‘Young Mental Health.’
Please tell us something about your latest book ‘Young Mental Health’.
Amrita Tripathi: The idea was to look at stories, share experiences, and expert views, with an India lens, so as to learn how to talk about mental health and disorders in a less complicated way. There is of course no one-size-fits-all model, and we have been very careful to ensure that the book isn’t prescriptive or full of “You should do this” or “You Shouldn’t do that” lectures.
Based on research and after going through many studies, as well as interviews with key stakeholders, it became apparent that some of the key issues to focus on would include Depression, Anxiety, Stress, and Bullying.
Based on the fact that suicide is the leading cause of death for young Indians, we decided to also cover the issue through interviews, including lived experience narratives that discuss suicidal ideation.
This has been done with a trigger warning and we have shared information about third-party helplines, which is critical. We have also covered issues like bullying, exam stress, eating disorders, and body image disorders (with a trigger warning).
We were also able to build on some great interviews and stories or comics that we had featured on the website The Health Collective. Meera and I also wanted to be sure we covered major issues, but we’re mindful that we couldn’t pack everything in, if we wanted to ensure that it’s readable!
Q: The title itself suggests that the book talks about young people, but don’t you think middle-aged persons or senior citizens too face mental health issues?
Meera Haran Alva: All individuals irrespective of age, experience mental health issues as all human beings have ‘mental health’. While our book ‘Young Mental Health’ focuses on ages spanning adolescence to young adulthood and not other age groups- understanding our mental health early in life has a great impact on our well being in our later years. Early intervention, identification, and treatment/support/ therapy can prevent chronic and more serious mental health issues and illnesses.
Q: How difficult it is for young minds to open up about their mental health?
Meera Haran Alva: In my experience of 17 years as a practitioner, the young are more open to talking about their mental health issues and there are less stigma and fear in sharing and receiving support. It is the messages they receive from their families and schools and other relationships and systems that can either provide safety and support or dismiss and deny them the help and access they need to mental health services. The responsibility lies therefore in the hands of the parents, teachers, and systems at large to make these changes and ensure that the young feel safe, listened to and supported. We hope our book helps in this process of an individual- systemic change and supports the movement towards destigmatizing conversations about mental health.
Q: Do you think there needs to be more awareness about this issue?
Amrita Tripathi: 100%. Every informed story, book, panel discussion we do is to ensure that we can help to ‘normalise’ these conversations and raise awareness about the issue. In our first book, Real Stories of Dealing with Depression, we included 9 powerful first-person accounts on living with Depression, and also had more words that are colloquially used — in conversation. As Mumbai-based psychologist and psychotherapist Hvovi Bhagwagar told us in Real Stories of Dealing with Depression; in Hindi and Marathi, we refer to depression as various things, such as dukh, ashanti, udaasi, rona. (sadness, not at peace, feeling low, crying).
Meera Haran Alva: Absolutely, in my practice, I have seen a spike in referrals- our needs for mental health services are higher than the number of professionals available. This is posing to be a huge concern at the moment- but is also reflective of the awareness that has set in with respect to mental health.
Q: Any advice to these young people and also to their parents, guardians, mentors?
Meera Haran Alva: To begin with, parents need to educate themselves about mental health and we hope this book will help them understand key issues and the language that can be helpful in starting these conversations with their young. There is no one size fits all approach to this issue — but there are parenting skills that can be acquired to help support better mental health for children such as listening skills, emotional regulation, problem-solving, etc.
It’s helpful when parents do some self-work of reflecting on their own psychological issues and emotional responses to situations. This awareness can help them respond more effectively to their children and promote a closer relationship. Parenting is perhaps one of the most challenging jobs in the world- parents need support and there is no shame in getting help for it.
Q: There’s a lot of stigma around mental health, how this can be addressed?
Amrita Tripathi: Stigma can be addressed mainly when each of us individually, and collectively stop judging others for what they are going through. We need to make an effort in our own circles to be supportive, empathetic and to spread the word that it’s ok to have these conversations, it’s ok to deal with mental health issues, and it’s absolutely critical to let people know that you support them and can help them access professional help
Q: Sushant Singh’s suicide triggered a new debate on mental health. We have seen some celebs like Deepika talk about these things. Do you think celebs must come forward and talk about it more openly?
Meera Haran Alva: The suicide of Sushant Singh is terribly tragic and it has awoken a fear amongst us collectively of the reality of depression and suicide. All of us have a role to play in our families – in our schools- in our workplaces – in our friend circles- neighborhoods etc… every action that we can take as individuals makes a difference! Yes of course when people who are influential such as celebs speak up- more people listen – so that is also very valuable in this movement of change and bringing awareness. However, I strongly believe that every individual can make a significant difference starting right with themselves and with those who are in their lives. Acknowledging our own mental health and making it safe for those around us to able to talk and share their concerns is the first big step that can make a huge difference going forward.
Q: Do you have any suggestions regarding the change in policies at the government level?
Meera Haran Alva: There is a huge dearth of mental health professionals in the country as I have mentioned earlier, with an estimated number of only 0.047 trained psychologists per 1,00,000 people who are in need of mental health care as according to the WHO (2011). To address this issue the Mental Health Care Act 2017, a bill that replaced the older Act of 1987, compels the state to have a mental health programme to respond to the growing need for trained mental health professionals to bridge this gap in treatment. It is the im[plentation of these policies that is the need of the hour.
A similar concern is with the child protection laws of the country that need to be more in sync and address the complexities of our culture, society, and the challenges that our child and adolescent mental health care services face in India.