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By Swarnima Bhattacharya
It might be a slightly misleading exercise to undertake a qualitative analysis of the state of mental and psychological healthcare in the country, seeing as it is practically non-existent. Despite India’s first ever national mental health policy having been launched in 2014, there seems to be absolutely no concrete, organically evolving discourse on the ground to further the good intentions of the policy.
Adding to the existing stigma and silences around mental issues, are the very problematic, and often insensitive, myths propagated by popular culture about such afflictions. Remember watching Parineeti Chopra as “mental Meeta” in the film Hasee toh Phasee, and the highly romanticised, and ridiculous, portrayal of acute depression and suicidal tendencies in Priyanka Chopra-starrer Anjana Anjani? Well, these are to name just a handful.
Battling such unhealthy perceptions about mental illness —which is NOT synonymous with “madness”— is a novel initiative, The Shrinking Couch. Co-founded by Nivida Chandra and Krutika Bopanna, this is an online platform that enables discussions and disseminates information on mental health, care-giving and treatment. As part of our discussions during the World Mental Health Week, NewsGram caught up with Nivida Chandra, for a conversation on all things “mental”.
Excerpts from the conversation-
What prompted you to kick start an initiative like The Shrinking Couch? What lacunae did you find in the mental health care sector that you sought to fill in with this online platform?
–The Shrinking Couch tries to deal with several challenges facing the mental health care sector but does it at an individual level. Krutika and I often discussed the state of affairs, and saw trouble everywhere. For one, the ratio of caregivers to the number of people who needed help is very skewed. Further we had no way to recognise a good and certified therapist from someone who wasn’t one. So between the quantity and quality of help available, the stigma surrounding mental illness and a healthy awareness and acceptance of these issues- we found TSC to be the ideal solution.
We started TSC as a forum where people could both share their stories, and a platform from where those reading could feel connected and learn something – whether for themselves, or for someone they loved. For instance, if someone has been feeling depressed, but doesn’t have help close at hand or the option of getting help or the knowledge that help is available, s/he can read the innumerable experiences shared by many of our contributors, and see that s/he isn’t alone. Experiences of others also often give us insights for dealing with our personal issues, especially when we find our own stories mirrored in those of others. In this way, we see a symbolic “shrinking” of the proverbial “Freudian Couch”. Hence the name, The Shrinking Couch, which seeks to be an additive layer upon the traditional methods of therapy and care-giving especially since it takes into account the quality of care, anonymity of expression and knowledge about the conditions.
About the quality of care, we have noticed how one-on-one therapy is almost invariably too heavy on the pocket. And “taking therapy”, as an idea, is extremely urban. Do you feel that seeking help for mental afflictions has become a luxury for the rich?
–Yes, to some extent, I can’t deny that. Again, however, the ratio is very skewed. There are way too many people who need help, and an even greater number of people who don’t even know yet that they could do with some help. Very few people are certified practitioners giving therapy.
I find the rural – urban divide too redundant. There are two barriers to entry: money and mindset.
Those with money who want help, may still find NGOs giving the service free of charge, and those with the right mindset might save up a paltry sum to seek out whatever they can afford. There is a lot of good work going on in rural India to try and deliver evidence-based therapies to those who need them, and research is showing that it is being well received. There is actually no such well-intentioned outreach in our so-called urban spaces. So I find the rural-urban split unhelpful when thinking of therapy.
In the West, for instance, corporate places and institutes encourage employees to take up therapy; some often even bear costs for this. There is no such culture in India, though I’m not sure if this is how I would want us to move towards a culture of acceptance either. You don’t get help because someone is giving it to you for free. You have to learn to recognize when you need help for your mind and go get it proactively.
Moreover, concepts such as group therapy, which are much more practical, are almost alien ideas, known by only a few. I recently received a long phone call from a girl in “urban” Rajasthan, educated and financially well-off, but up against extremely regressive parents. She went ahead and sought help for depression and found that her therapist was playing ‘tetris’, hiding her phone under her table. Frankly I don’t care if that person was delivering this for free (they weren’t); this is unacceptable. It speaks volumes about the lack of ethics, the sensitivity and the importance that is placed on mental health.
Can you talk a little more about the stigma that is ruthlessly attached to mental issues? Why this social, cultural, communal fear in confronting these issues as they are?
–This is actually really easy to understand. The most important reason for this is that a mental issue, say depression or alcoholism, doesn’t really exist in a vacuum. It is not an individual affliction.
In the case of mental and psychological afflictions, the familial and psychical environment, and the social context of the individual play a major role.
It could be the oppressive family, a hostile workplace, the adulterous/uncaring spouse, the unsupportive parents-in-law, the abusive teacher or the bullying classmate. It can be one, or all of these that come together to form an environment of ill-health. It is because the people around you are easily implicated, that a culture of silence is inculcated. This works in two ways: one, you don’t always feel confident about blaming those you love for your miseries, and two, most of the time, none of those around you want to take responsibility, or help you. So you end up feeling blamed and cornered, and ultimately alone, and likely mad.
It is rather paradoxical that your surrounding environment contributes to your mental affliction, but at the same time you are singled out for the blame. A common response to conditions such as depression and anxiety is that the person isn’t strong enough, or s/he should “calm down” or “move on”. What would you say about that?
–Yes, the culture of blame only worsens the already existing culture of silence. Most of the time, the sufferers also dismiss some very real issues as nothing more than “bouts of sadness” or a “rough patch”, because they themselves are resistant to the idea of being “mentally ill.” The general perception about mental healthcare facilities is far from encouraging. Psychiatric facilities are dingy colonial cob webbed buildings and boldly called paagal khanas – and I’m talking about ‘developed’ cities. In electroconvulsive therapy, medication and institutionalization can be forced upon you without any need to prove their requirement. So most people, very conveniently, are quick to associate mental and psychological afflictions with personal failing.
Internalising blame and victim-shaming are the major challenges facing mental healthcare in India.
When someone is told to move on, their feelings are not validated. They are made to feel false and silly, or perhaps dramatic and crying for attention. This actually pushes the person to either shut up, bottle it in, or break down and literally give in to being ‘mad’. Unfortunately, this fear of no one understanding them is what leads men to drink, women to cheat, and people to scream, hit and actually lose their human sense.
At TSC, we receive innumerable long, detailed letters and messages on Facebook by people asking if they can share their stories anonymously, or if they can even write at all. There is not only the fear of confronting the society but also yourself. Many women, for instance, just deal with their husbands “hitting” them. But once you get down to writing, the process of contemplation and transcription doesn’t allow you to view it as just “hitting”. Then, you realise you are in an abusive relationship. It is not easy to confront such revelations even at a very personal level, and obviously the social, cultural, legal and medical infrastructure does not make it easy.
The problems are truly wide-ranging. So, right from the resistance one faces internally and from the family, there are also challenges at the policy level. There has been sporadic talk about decriminalizing suicide, but none of that is actually in the offing. What would you say about that?
–A person who is brought to the brink of killing himself, and tries to do so, was legally viewed as a criminal until last year. Obviously it is all kinds of screwed up! I had written about suicide and the logic of preventing it a while ago. It took years of policy debate and much labor by the new mental health proposal to the government to convince them that a sad, struggling person is not a criminal, but needs help. A person who tries to commit suicide is NOT a weakling, and is not a hindrance to the precious right to live. So, yes, the policies are totally misplaced. There are still others on the right to vote, on holding property, and basic provision of care. A great proposal made was that of Advance Directive, in which a person has the right to decide his course of treatment should he or she have to be taken into a psychiatric facility and so on. It’s a beautiful detailed proposal that is yet to be passed. I’m sure there are other such proposals as well.
Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers about the work you do at The Shrinking Couch?
–I would welcome experiences and stories from as many people as would like to write. Everyone is welcome to share. For starters, you are welcome to read the stories that have very bravely been shared by many of our readers. This exercise of writing and reading is more therapeutic than most people realize. In the World Mental Health Week, I would encourage people to reflect, share, reach out and help, and also get help.
Meta-owned photo-sharing platform Instagram has started testing subscriptions, a new feature allowing creators to offer paid followers access to exclusive content. Currently, only 10 US creators have gained access to the new feature, including basketball player Sedona Prince, model Kelsey Cook, actor-influencer Alan Chikin Chow, Olympic gymnast Jordan Chiles and digital creator Lonnie IIV.
"Subscriptions are for creators," Instagram chief Adam Mosseri said in a video posted on Twitter. "Creators do what they do to make a living and it's important that it is predictable." Followers will pay a monthly fee to access subscriber-only content from creators they follow. Subscription pricing ranges from $0.99 per month to $99.99 per month.
Instagram users who subscribe to a creator will have access to subscriber-only stories, live streams, and other content. | Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash
Instagram users who subscribe to a creator will have access to subscriber-only stories, live streams, and other content. Meanwhile, Instagram is also reportedly testing Stories redesign with vertical scrolling in its app. As noted by social media consultant Matt Navarra, some users located in Turkey have received an Instagram update that brings vertical scrolling to Stories.
While Stories from the same user can still be viewed by tapping the left or right side of the screen, jumping to the next user's Stories requires a swipe down. (IANS/ MBI)
(Keywords: subscriber, feature, testing, Instagram, followers, scrolling, users, content creators, stories)
Many stray animals are trying to survive as the temperature in the capital continues to drop. Many strays lose this battle trying to find food and warmth under a scrap of clothing or caged up in the corner of streets. The Perroayuda Welfare Foundation (PWF), a Delhi-based animal welfare organisation, recently held a Mega Stray Feeding Drive in Lajpat Nagar with the goal of feeding all of the area's stray animals. These wonderful Samaritans come from all around Delhi-NCR with one goal in mind: to rescue, feed, and adopt all animals in need.
Many stray animals are trying to survive as the temperature in the capital continues to drop. | Af.Mil
PWF has previously staged feeding drives in Netaji Subhash Place, Connaught Place, North Campus, Delhi University, and other locations throughout the city. A group of 70 volunteers fed over 100 stray dogs in the vicinity and provided water in earthen bowls. To raise awareness about the issue of stray animals, volunteers talked with businesses, local authorities, customers, and hawkers. The actions of this group of young animal advocates were recognised and supported.
"Donations come in from all around the world." To save strays and pay for their treatment, we rely completely on donations. "Every day, our organisation feeds roughly 1000 stray dogs," says Arpit Mathur, the organisation's founder. "Throughout the day, we receive SOS calls. We can only accomplish so much with our limited staff and resources. We hope that more young people, like us, would join us in this cause." In Rohini, the NGO also maintains a recovery centre. Currently, the recovery centre accommodates roughly 40 animals, including cats, dogs, monkeys, and a few unusual birds.
To rescue, feed, and adopt all animals in need is the goal of these people. | Photo by Camilo Fierro on Unsplash
PWF seeks to discover and feed all stray animals in need, as well as provide them with food, care, affection, and medical treatment, and organise Mega Stray Feeding Drives to raise awareness and adoption. "We discover stray animals, pet them, and feed them - no one deserves to be hungry," Mathur adds. (IANS/ MBI)
(Keywords: adopt, feed, rescue, goal, Delhi-NCR, Perroayuda Welfare Foundation, Winter, stray animals, Help, Initiative, volunteer)
Indonesian lawmakers passed a law on the relocation of the nation's capital to the island of Kalimantan, which shares borders with Malaysia and Brunei, from the most populated island of Java. The move is a step forward in one of the most ambitious projects initiated by the country's President Joko Widodo, Xinhua news agency reported. Some former presidents had floated ideas of relocating the capital city in the past. The president, widely known as Jokowi, three years ago vowed to relocate the capital city to the province of East Kalimantan due to a number of issues like high population density and land subsidence in Jakarta which is home to more than 10 million people.
Indonesian lawmakers passed a law on the relocation of the nation's capital. Aditya Joshi / Unsplash
Nusantara, which the new capital is called, will be built in two districts in East Kalimantan -- Penajam Paser Utara and Kutai Kartanegara. It is set to occupy about 256,000 hectares of land. The name of Nusantara, which can be translated as an archipelago in English, was chosen by President Jokowi, Minister for National Development Planning Suharso Monoarfa has said. Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country, is home to some 270 million people, consisting of about 17,000 islands. "The national capital has a central function and serves as a symbol of a country to show the identity of the nation and state," Minister Monoarfa explained during a meeting with lawmakers at the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
Also Read : Hinduism in Indonesia
The ground-breaking of the construction project that is slated to cost $32 billion was initially expected to be conducted in August 2020, but the Covid pandemic has forced the government to put it on hold. Some of the projects on the construction of the new capital will be carried out by public-private partnerships, and the early stage of the relocation will begin this year and is expected to end in 2024. At this stage, the government will build a presidential palace, parliament buildings, and a housing complex in the primary zone. The move of civil servants at the early stage must be completed before August 16, 2024.
The construction project is slated to cost $32 billion.Sulthan Auliya / Unsplash
Nusantara will serve as the centre of government, while Jakarta would remain the business and economic centre of Indonesia, Southeast Asia's biggest economy. A day before the lawmakers passed the bill, President Jokowi stressed that that new capital is not only about physically relocating the offices of government institutions, but also "building a new smart city." It has been reported that Nusantara will be headed by an authority chief appointed by the president and its level of position is equal to a minister. Several former government officials which will likely become the chief include Jakarta's former governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama and former minister for research and technology Bambang Brodjonegoro. (IANS/SP)
(Keywords : Indonesia, Parliament, law, relocate, capital, Nusantara, Jakarta, government, Kalimantan, President, country, people, meeting, construction, palace, buildings, housing, officials.)
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