Mental Health is a state of well-being in which an individual realises her/his own abilities, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively (learn engagingly – for students) and is able to make a contribution to her/his community.
According to W.H.O, Mental Health is fundamental to our collective and individual ability as humans to think, emote and interact with each other, earn a living and enjoy life.
The promotion, protection and (restoration) of mental health can be regarded as a critical responsibility of individuals, institutions, communities and societies and nations across the world.
The three major determinants of Mental Health are:
1. Social Factors
The social aspects of our life as individuals and as members of the community that specifically determine our mental health are:
- Social violence and socio-economic pressures – The kind of society that we live in is critical – if we live in a violence ridden and unempathetic community it is going to have serious implications on our mental health. Social isolation, social discrimination and economic disparity within the community can have negative implications on the individual’s mental health.
- Rapid Social Changes – When the social structures are constantly changing- uncertain social scenarios – the best example would be the pandemic induced restrictions which forces us to curtail our social needs to a great extend are exerting great pressures on our social health. This has huge ramifications on our mental health.
- Stressful working/Academic Conditions – When the academic environment becomes stressful due to the pressures of performance, unable to complete academic requirements in time, lack of collaboration among peers, absence of platforms to discuss and connect with peer group, lack of empathetic support from teachers and family. These critical issues can have detrimental impacts on our mental health.
- Gender Disparities – The gender disparities that exist in our institutions and homes (most of the times unfavourable to females) can cause mental health conditions. The pandemic might also have brought in new gender disparities in the form of female students finding it difficult to assign time between academic activities and household chores at times.
- Social Exclusion – The kind of social isolation that exists in certain communities when someone belongs to marginalised communities, or discriminated for belonging to certain caste, gender, ethnicity or belief system. The milder forms are visible in the student community when students are bullied, or isolated based on certain traits. This social exclusion will have negative implications on mental health.
- Physical ill health – When people are physically unhealthy, it does impact mental health.
2. Psychological Factors
- Psychological and Personality Factors – The psychological needs of emotional understanding and support, need for peer and family connections, engaging conversations and meaningful relations are strained it can have negative impacts on mental health.
- When mental conditions are present within families, it can have serious repercussions on the mental health of other in the family.
- Substance abuse, partner violence and gender discrimination within families can have detrimental effects on mental health.
- Personal space (both intimate and personal) violations within families and communities can strain mental health.
- Lack of autonomy (the freedom to express the self) and any violation on self-identity can have negative consequences on mental health.
- When our personality styles are ridiculed or not accepted by others it can negatively impact mental health of individuals.
3. Biological Factors
- Genetic and environment factors – When there is a history mental illness within families – the individual is more prone to mental health conditions
- The growing up environment of the individual is also a critical element in determining the mental health of the individual (neglectful parenting practices, abusive, violent and traumatic experiences during childhood and early adolescence)
According to the World Health Organization there are 1.2 billion early youth in the world (aged 15 – 24 years)
20% in this category experiences some kind of mental conditions
Recent data from the United States show that there is a five-fold increase in the number of early youths who seek therapeutic interventions after the pandemic (the U.S has partially opened its institutions)
Taking this data as an indicator the youth population in India, who have been undergoing the pandemic induced restrictions for more than 15 months now – may be more than 80 % of our adolescents and youth will require therapeutic support.
The Different Types of Mental Stressors that our Youth might be Undergoing
1. Academic & Career Related Stressors
- Lack of academic engagement – absence of space for academic discussions.
- The uncertain future – Already we were faced with the enormous shift in the technological landscape and now the pandemic is throwing up totally numbing challenges. Many careers are becoming obsolete and redundant. So, getting prepared for this uncertainty is a big challenge
- Absolute lack of physical spaces for academic collaboration
- Career related uncertainties – how to innovate and “stay alive” in this ever-changing career scenarios
- The pandemic induced restrictions curtailing the social needs in academics.
2. Faculty/Peer Interaction Related Stressors
- The absolute lack of physical interactions with peers/faculty
- Unmet socialization needs
- Lack of emotional connection with peers and faculty – maintaining emotional connections with peers and faculty are critical in maintaining self-composure, emotional validation and acceptance et al
- The absolute lack of opportunity for physical comfort within the peer groups (the simple things like holding hands and walking together, small but naughty tussles with friends, the games and other art related expressions et al)
- The difficulty that we experience in converting the virtual peer interactions into enriching personal experiences.
- The family bringing in restrictions on the already limited peer interactions by insisting that we reduce screen time (virtual engagement)
3. Family Related Stressors
- The judgemental approach of our families – making comparisons, trivialising our problems, negating our concerns, downplaying our worries and coming up with dialogues like ‘it’s ok”, “never mind” and these are normal things that happen in everyone’s life” and ridiculing our opinions.
- Emotional disconnectedness – the pandemic has brought in much more family presence. But using these family times as quality spaces has now become defunct. The stressors within family members are increasing day by day. Earlier as students we used to visit our homes only during stipulated intervals, but now as we spend all our time at home – the interactions have started declining – and being cut off from each other even though we are physically together is the most stressful thing. Thus, emotional disconnectedness within families has grown during the pandemic.
- The family only talks about academics and career alone. They always pressurize the students to devote more time for academics and they seldom understand the other social and emotional needs of the youth and provide spaces for the same.
- The discussions within the family are always focussed on future & career – the comments like “we have spent everything on your education”, “you are our only hope”, “please do not disappoint us” are all additional stressors – The family expectations can weigh us down and can have negative consequences on our mental well-being.
- Violations of personal space – the continuous peeping into our rooms to check on what we are doing. Negating our opinions, and taking decisions for us without even consulting us (they always come with a tag – it is for your good only!). This is a dehumanising experience.
- Utter lack of empathy – When we try and talk about our concerns, anxieties or troubles- we are being ridiculed as “being silly” or they term them as “it’s nothing” “I have experienced worser things”. “You Can overcome”. Such ridicule, sarcasm and trivialization can have serious consequences on the way we interpret our anxieties, concerns and troubles.
4. Self – Doubts and Social Stressors
- When we start doubting our own abilities because of lack of empathy from family, peers and faculty.
- The queries like “will I get placed in a good company”? Can I fulfil the dreams of my family? Will I become successful in life?
- Starts doubting ourselves like “will I be able to outlive the pandemic”? what will I do if I don’t find a placement after I finish my course? – Will my friends connect with me if I don’t get placed?
- Am I worthy? Do I have enough number of friends? – and a thousand other nagging self-doubts which can derail our psychological well being
- Add to this the social stressors like – the political uncertainty – the economic slowdown, the changing job scenarios, the violence and hatred in our political landscape, the one-sided political narratives, et al. This makes us all feel that the future is so uncertain.
How do we create an environment that fosters mental health?
- Respect and protect the basic human values in individuals and communities that we come across (the identity of gender, caste, ethnicity, societal, cultural, economic, language, regional, national, colour and creed)
- Create engaging learning environments – discussions, analysis, deeper understanding and collaborating as learning groups help create such engaging learning environments – engaging learning environments provided the members spaces to be heard, to be accepted, to be validated and to be recognised.
- Ensuring Interpersonal interactions that are responsive (providing space for each other to understand, help and engage mutually), supportive (seeking and providing help, being empathetic and compassionate with each other) and developmentally stimulating (undertaking intellectually challenging activities together)
- Building the critical twenty first century skills – Empathy – Resilience and Collaboration
- Empathy – Understand the self – understand our emotions, identify the triggers that cause emotions in us, analyse them and then express those understandings. Try and think and identify our strengths and weaknesses – talk about them to the trusted peers – all this will help you understand the self as well as others – because you also start listening (be non-judgemental) to others – will help you understand others perspective – the beginnings of empathy. Express your ideas, emotions, opinions. And let others also do the same. Help others to problem solve. You become more empathetic this way. It gives you more platforms to create meaningful relations
- Resilience – The moment we start expressing ourselves – we start identifying our autonomy (the sense of identity). We also get to know the intimate and personal space of others when we empathetically connect. Leading to better social competence (the capacity to create and maintain meaningful relationships) – social competence will encourage us to “seek help” when required and we will not shy away from extending help to the required people around us- This leads to better problem-solving skills, as we have more people to discuss problems with – we get multiple perspectives – and finally these skills will help us in “goal setting” and looking at “life with a purpose”.
- Collaboration – building peer networks – both physical, hybrid and virtual peer networking keeps us engaged – they help you to work together to problem solve – helps you make responsible decisions (the ethical one’s – as when you collaborate we make more democratic decisions)- In our collaborative networks – use empathy as the corner stone – more people will connect to empathetic collaborative (as we are sure the people in these collaborative are more understanding) – this empathetic networks helps you engage in sharing your anxieties, concerns and problems with each other – stay connected to tackle personal and professional uncertainties – build peer, professional and mentor collaborative – use innovation and creativity in building empathetic collaborative – the list goes on……….
Stay Connected – Stay Resilient – Be Empathetic – Collaborate to Problem Solve