This article is penned by Vikram Janakiraman and it first appeared on Linkedin
I read of the sad suicide of a very popular, successful and young artist. Apparently he was suffering from depression for some time. The instances are rising: farmers, school children, successful professionals etc. I think it’s time to realise that mental health issues need to be, and can be treated. Before we go there, it’s worth spending some time thinking about why the incidence is rising. Here is my take:
As a child I was brought up to be religious: daily rituals, periodic visits to a shrine, stories of gods and goddesses etc. Couched in this my parents taught me to give everything my best, believe in destiny but persevere in the face of failure and leave the rest to the divine. It built a certain outlook to life. I definitely didn’t come through adversities unscathed; but I did learn to address and weather the next one better.
Mental health was a topic riddled with stigma even then; I don’t know a single person in my childhood who had been to a therapist – either they hadn’t or more likely just didn’t talk about it! However, as I reflect, many people relied on gurus and godmen who played the role of life coach too – and this was not just acceptable but also celebrated. It also helped them have a wider social circuit, more friends outside work and perhaps a deeper sense of purpose that helped too.
Today as I reflect lots has changed – and not for the better. I for one, am not imparting any religious or ritual upbringing to my children. In our society speaking of mental health issues such as depression is still shrouded in stigma. The number of certified therapists are few and good ones even fewer. Ffollowing a “guru” or life coach is not as common – though interestingly growing. And social media has had an insidious effect that is exacerbating the problem. We only see the best events in the lives of our circle. This causes an “availability bias” and contributes to a feeling that others are having it easier, find success effortlessly, are richer, beautiful, popular etc.
It is then no surprise to me that we are seeing a rise in people breaking down, withdrawing into shells, and in sad cases taking their own lives.
So what do we need to do to heal as a society?
- Teach our kids fortitude: Spend time telling them of your own struggles and how you coped so they are brought up to expect life to throw them some lemons.
- Be watchful: Look for any mood aberrations in your children and if you should see it – don’t ask them to “toughen up” but work with them, understand the problem, and most importantly help and stay connected.
- Limit social media for kids: Being on social media at a young age is not a rite of passage even if your kids tell you it is. Limit their access till they are old enough to recognise the “availability bias” in seeing everyone’s golden moments.
- Bring back physical activity: Get your kids to go out and play. Not a tutored class but the delightful unstructured, untutored time with friends – running around the block, inventing games etc. The connection between physical health and mental strength is well researched but the true social nature of play times is even more valuable. Success means children beg for more time to play in the ground and come back sweaty and with a smile.
- Don’t judge but support: Be more accepting of people with mental health issues – don’t add to the stigma by making derogatory statements. Provide access to counsellors and therapists at the workplace
- Attend to yourself: Find a therapist if you need one. You won’t hide a chronic stomach pain; so why show reticence in seeking help for anxiety, or depression? Also find a hobby, a vocation. You need to get a life to enjoy it.
As parents, we need to start a conversation around mental wellbeing with our kids urgently. The more we share and the more we talk, the faster we will move towards solving this problem.