A lot of students are interested in psychology for a multitude of reasons. One of them being that they want to help people, and I was no different either. But we enter this field thinking we know so much about mental health, but in reality we don’t. It’s just as complex as it sounds.
Because we all have different ideas and perceptions about mental health, it gets hard to reach a consensus. First, we look at WHO’s definition and understand how it looks in the Indian context. While doing so, we will take a look at the Mental Health Act of 2017 which has made some progressive changes. This article will give you a brief overview of mental health.
What is Mental Health?
Like always, we first look at the definition provided by the World Health Organization. The WHO says that mental health is ‘a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” This very definition from the WHO bases the responsibility of one’s well-being on the individual. And that good mental health automatically equates to being “productive”. The individual’s worth is their ability to contribute to the society, economically. This definition can easily take on an ableist and capitalistic frame.
Mental Illness defined by the Mental Health Act of 2017 says, “a substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that grossly impairs judgment, behavior, capacity to recognize reality or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life, mental conditions associated with the abuse of alcohol and drugs, but does not include mental retardation which is a condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind of a person, specially characterized by sub-normality of intelligence.”
The core of this definition is that mental illness affects our thinking and judgement making abilities. Drug abuse can cause a lot of side effects of which one could be mental illness OR that some mental illness can be a catalyst that accelerates the use of drugs or narcotics. But it does not include neuro-divergent or atypical individuals.
There are many complexities in this definition that need to be challenged, however, it is noteworthy to mention that this definition does not include the society’s role in mental health and places the burden on the individual. At Pause, we believe that mental health is political; by which we mean that the distress caused is a response to the moving society we’re living in. The laws, attitudes, governance, and hierarchies affect our mental health. Ignoring this will erase people’s identity location in this hierarchy and washes away generations of trauma that was caused by the society.
This definition of mental health comes from the medical model approach. The medical model views the individual as the sum of their symptoms. It overlooks society’s role in an individual’s life which does not help minorities who show symptoms differently. This view also makes mental health more diagnosable. This can easily lead to overdiagnosing and also, is the reason why many individuals are scared to go for therapy.
Pause for Perspective is cautious about the medical model and focuses on an eclectic coming together of narrative, mindfulness and compassionate-focused therapy as a way to help our clients. We don’t reduce individuals to their symptoms and solely work with those symptoms; rather we take a holistic approach and affirm their experiences-good and bad. We primarily focus on the agency of the individual and make sure that whoever enters our space, walks away with a sense of relief and hope.
Who are mental health professionals?
There are types of mental health professionals in the field of psychology. If you are someone who is interested in the field of mental health, you should know the differences among these types and choose what is best for you. According to the Mental Health Act of 2017, there are these primarily types of mental health professionals:
A medical professional with a post-graduate degree or diploma in
psychiatry. After completing 5 ½ years MBBS course, the person has an option to do Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Diploma in psychiatric medicine (DPM). After which they can become a licensed practitioner.
A person with a recognized qualification in Clinical Psychology, recognized and approved by the Rehabilitation Council of India, or with a Post-Graduate degree in Psychology / Clinical Psychology / Applied Psychology / MPhil in Clinical Psychology or Medical and Social Psychology after a two year course at a UGC-recognized university.
PSYCHIATRIC SOCIAL WORKER
A person with a post-graduate degree in social work and master of philosophy in psychiatric social work after a 2-year course at a UGC-recognized university.
These are the types of mental health professionals in the country.
Now that we’re familiar with who is a mental health professional and what exactly mental health is, we will now look into how mental illness is actually determined.
HOW IS MENTAL ILLNESS DETERMINED?
First, the most important guidelines to follow are the ones set by WHO and the International Classification of Disorders. Keeping these guidelines in mind, the Central Government of our country drafts their own guidelines. The Mental Health Act of 2017 states that:
Mental illness of a person shall not be determined on the basis of,––
(a) political, economic or social status or membership of a cultural, racial or religious group, or for any other reason not directly relevant to mental health status of the person;
(b) non-conformity with moral, social, cultural, work or political values or religious beliefs prevailing in a person’s community.
Mental Health Act of 2017
These are the new guidelines under which diagnosis can be made. It tells us that the symptoms of the individual’s comes first and the socio-political reason comes later. Like we mentioned earlier in this article, this disproportionately affects minorities, the hope is to be able to look at the impact socio political and other factors have in the marginalization of people.
The Mental Health Act of 2017 has made major progressive changes which focuses on the agency of a person and their right to choose what they believe is good for their mental health. This also also decriminalizes suicide and focuses on rehabilitation centers. These changes will be discussed in detail in the next articles.
While we have critiqued the very definition of mental health and how symptomatic it has become, it is imperative to know that distress caused in the individual is real and painful. Identity location and marginalization of a person affects mental health. We should, as mental health advocates and professionals, focus on the individual and healing of the individual. Labels and experiences of this distress should not be overlooked solely because we are raising questions. Rather this should help us understand that distress and pain come from experiences and experiences can be political: as a result of systemic injustice or an isolated event of one’s own personal life. However which way it may be, the individual comes first. And they have the agency and the right to choose for themselves, we only have to facilitate that change. This is what Pause believes in.