Disclaimer: This is the continuation of our previous article, Kindness is Political. Reading that first would be more beneficial. 

In our previous article, we discussed how structures work. To understand the society we’re living in, we have to understand the structures it was built on. Gender, Caste, Sexuality, Race and Class are some of the major categories based on which we’re divided. With each category of division, there’s mental health issues related. By which I mean to say that mental health issues are deeply intertwined with the socio-economic and political issues.

The American Indian Foundations’s report on Mental Health in India is an essential read to understand the nuances of mental health and how intrinsically it ties with the political and social factors. An excerpt from the report says:

Mental health is influenced by a number of social, cultural, political, economic and environmental factors such as national policies, living standards, working conditions and community support (“Mental Health in India”, WHO, 2018). Treatment and cure for mental illnesses is of utmost importance, and ignoring them can escalate the issue pretty exponentially. Unfortunately, mental health in India has never been given any importance or attention at all.

World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the burden on mental health problems is around 2443 DALYs* per 100,000 population, and the age-adjusted suicide is 21.1 per 100,000 population.  The mental health work force in India is also extremely low – there are 0.3 psychiatrists, 0.12 nurses, 0.07 psychologists and 0.07 social workers per 100,000 population(“Mental Health in India”, WHO).

The patriarchy in India has taught people that “it’s not okay to not be okay”, and there is a constant pressure on people to act normal when they are actually experiencing a lot of stress and depression.

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Let’s break that down for better understanding:

GenderWomxn in India are have 50% more chance in getting depression than men. Why? Because apart from hormonal factors, we have the social conditions to consider.When government officials pass bills concerning womxn’s bodies, it becomes a political issue, like the Trans Act which furthers the oppression faced by transwomxn. They are politicizing womxn’s bodies and treating them like commodities. Apart from that, womxn are subjected to more discrimination at their work paces, and are paid less for their labor. And with that, they also have to look after their houses, since it’s the woman’s job. Womxn are also subjected to harassment at the hands of men. In our last article we spoke of how rape culture works in this society. Being at the receiving end of it, womxn tend to be more anxious, and more scared in general. Post-partum blues are also extremely prevalent in Indian womxn. In a study, it was found that about 22% of new mothers in India suffer from Postpartum depression. And those who have been victims to harassment have higher number of depressive episodes. All the factors add to the poor mental health of womxn like social issues, economic conditions and motherhood. 

The AIF report showed alarming statistics: 

Married women in India are the biggest victims of suicide deaths among women in India, mainly because of arranged marriage, early motherhood and economic dependence on husbands. In most cases women are also subject to domestic violence which puts them under heavy mental pressure. The social stigma associated with the mental health disorders makes the situation even worse.

However, like we discussed in the previous article, this is not an individualistic problem. It is a social issue that needs to be tackled to create more safe spaces for womxn. 

Thus, even Mental Health becomes political.

Caste: We have established the fact that we live in a Brahmanical Patriarchal society. Caste oppression has been very normalized in the society. So much so that we don’t even realize the ways it casually slips into our conversations. Brahmins being upper-caste and Dalits being the lower-caste creates a discrimination which perpetuates the unequal distribution of resources. Generations and generations of atrocities ensures the inheritance of trauma by the following generation. This is called inter-generational trauma. New generations are born with C-PTSD because of how their ancestors faced these atrocities. This is a serious issue and we can only ensure that their mental health is on top of its game when they’re also given the same resources and opportunities as the uppercaste people. This is how mental health becomes political.

The LGBTQ Community: We cannot deny that the LGBTQ+ community is not stigmatized in this society. With this deep-rooted stigmatization, the LGBTQ youth are more likely to struggle with their mental health compared to their cis-het peers. A research survey says that Transgender youth are far more likely than their non-transgender peers to experience depression — nearly four times the risk, according to one study (Reisner 2015). Similarly, LGBQ teens experience significantly more depression symptoms than their heterosexual peers (Marshal 2011).

India's transgender rights Bill faces 'unanimous opposition' from ...

Important points from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation include:

This is because of the lack of acceptance from society and being branded as ‘not normal’. The statistics are extremely worrying. If we don’t make progress as a society and don’t accept the LGBTQ community, the statistics will get worse. In India, the trans community has had to face a lot of discrimination even after the passing of Section 377. The recently passed Trans Bill has greatly contributed to the distress of the Indian Trans Community. This distress is a huge contributing actor to anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation.

Mental health then becomes political. 

In the last year, I have heard so many people say, ‘Oh now is a good time to be a counsellor, you can earn lots of money.’ But they don’t realize how wrong it is. Mental Health professionals want to create awareness about mental health issues and make sure people are living their lives upto their full potential. They do not want to make money off of people’s problems. The rise in anxiety and depression levels in today’s world is not welcomed by the professionals who are working day and night to make sure that the curve is flattened. While it is great that people are comparatively more open towards getting help, there’s no denying that the political and socio-economic status of the world is a contributing factor for it.

Capitalism creates problems by dividing people and then monetizes on these same problems. How so? By selling books on self-love and motivation, corporations ‘provide solutions’ to our problems. They capitalize on Yoga classes and self-care workshops. These methods put the entire blame on the individual for feeling a certain way, and tells them that the system works in their favor. And for that, all they have to do is work hard and hustle and they can achieve anything. The individualistic approach is wrong. It is rooted in the neo-liberal school of thought which denies the existence of structures and says that ‘it’s all in your head.’

But it’s not in their heads. 

The structures are very, very real. I can say that more than half our anxieties come from the political situation around us and how the society discriminates us. We can all collectively flatten the rise of mental health conditions, if we change and decolonise the society as we know it. We need to relearn and make our healthcare systems more accommodating for minorities and people living in the margins. This is how we make mental health more accessible.

Omaiha Walajahi


Pause for Perspective