It is a worldwide clamour as we lack mental health awareness, we lack mental health literacy. First, people don’t believe that something like mental illness exists, even if they do, they find it a shameful thing to even talk about.
Mental health literacy in India has a long way to go before we sensitize our society in learning the right language about mental health. The knowledge and awareness about mental disorders have been neglected as compared to physical illness.
Research says, “If the public’s mental health literacy is not improved, this may hinder public acceptance of evidence-based mental health care. Also, many people with common mental disorders may be denied effective self-help and may not receive appropriate support from others in the community.”
Mental health literacy in India
Mental health literacy in India is still a vague concept to address, but its basic aim is to conceptualise and make knowledge accessible to whoever wants to promote overall well-being. Since mental health is as important as our physical health, we must understand how prolonged mental distress can hamper our physical health.
Many mental disorders show physical symptoms like concentration issues, extreme fatigue, anger, crying, heart-palpitation, troubled sleep, breathing problems etc.
According to Cambridge University Press, Jorm et al introduced the term ‘mental health literacy’ and have defined it as “ knowledge and beliefs about mental disorders which aid their recognition, management or prevention”. Mental health literacy consists of several components, including:
(a) The ability to recognise specific disorders or different types of psychological distress
(b) Knowledge and beliefs about risk factors and causes
(c) Knowledge and beliefs about self-help interventions
(d) Knowledge and beliefs about professional help available
(e) Attitudes that facilitate recognition and appropriate help-seeking
(f) Knowledge of how to seek mental health information
The shame , the stigma and poor mental health literacy in India
While there are a lot of stigmas attached to seeking professional help when in distress, it is also important to understand that people lack the overall mental health awareness, hence seeking help seems inappropriate for something they don’t believe in.
For many, talking about mental illness is still uncomfortable and for people like me, it is no less than a challenge to continue spreading the awareness when a majority of the population doesn’t believe in the cause but sees you as a preacher.
Also, there lies a dearth of measures taken to make emotional wellness a priority. A few months back, I had signed up a petition at Change.org appealing that school curriculums must include mental health as a topic of study right from a young age, till date I could not even gather 100 signatures.
To promote mental health awareness and amplify mental health literacy in India. I took an initiative “Humanity Ki Chain” where I invite experts and guests to share their insights around mental health. This week, I was honoured to host Dr Raghu Raghavan, mental health faculty, in London. He spoke about mental health literacy in India and its need on a deeper level.
He talked about understanding mental health, understanding emotions. How external factors affect our mental health and you might also like to check out his MeHelp India Project where they use theatre to raise mental health awareness. Here is the video you can have a look at:
To conclude, I would say that lack of understanding around mental illness and stigma are overwhelming barriers to help-seeking behaviour for mental health concerns. If the public’s mental health literacy is not improved, this may hinder public acceptance of evidence-based mental health care as well. Also, many people with common mental disorders may be denied effective self-help and may not receive appropriate support from others in the community.
Love and light
Priyanka is a published author of 26 Days 26 Ways for a Happier you, Ardhaviram and Broken & Beautiful. An NLP practitioner and Founder of Sanity Daily, helping you prioritize your mental health. Let’s build a happy community.