What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor and more unashamed conversation.”~ Glenn Close
Mental Health isn’t just the absence of a mental or physical illness or related symptoms. Rather, it is a state of holistic well-being, wherein the individual realizes his or her abilities, copes with the stress of daily life and still contribute as productive members and assets of the society.
Despite the rate of modernization and technological innovation and evolution, Mental Health is still considered a taboo and topic of unacceptable opinion and conversation. Attitudes within modern-day society place more significance upon a physical illness rather than a mental illness, and it tends to garner more support, sensitivity, and aid. It is this belief that has created and enforced a label of ‘abnormality’ surrounding the social stigma.
The modern-day living and lifestyle, with its hectic, sturdy, and monotonous schedules, has taken over our physical, emotional, and mental health. Evolving technology and social media have changed various aspects of our life so rapidly that we have forgotten to give importance to that which is internal and consider the external and what looks on the outside more critical.
Humans are so driven by the desire to achieve, compete, and succeed. So much so that this fast pace of life has resulted in their ability to forego what is most important, i.e., their innermost individual self and being and their mental health.
Mental Health and Professional, Dr. Kamna Chhibber, sheds her take on life and mental health in an exclusive talk and interview.
Kamna, from a very young age, was very outgoing and taught to be vocal about her opinions and expressive of her tremendous and creative talents. Born and brought up in Delhi (India), she lived in a close and tight-knit family.
The importance of relationship orientation and interaction, as well as the individual development of personality and significance of working hard and striving to achieve a name and place for yourself in society, was reinforced continuously.
Reading was always one of her most significant and most influential talents, aiding and benefiting her in her current professional life as well. From within the household and home environment itself, the importance of seeking more knowledge and questioning existing social reality and phenomena was encouraged continuously and emphasized.
The Motivation and Inspiration for Being a Mental Health Professional
According to Dr. Kamna Chhibber, Knowledge and Innovation not only mean accumulating more information. Instead, it also involves the ability to challenge and question existing social reality and giving back to the greater good of the community. Helping people and giving back to those in need is the purest form of social altruism and a means of personality and individual development and holistic learning.
“Back when I was still in school, around 18 years ago; Psychology was not given much importance and significance, compared to its situation today. Mental Health was never talked about. I always had a strong inclination to work and be involved in an occupation focused on individual health care. The idea of doing more for others and giving back to the community was a value that was inculcated in our family household from a very young age and early on itself.”
Kamna was also an avid reader and book connoisseur, a habit for which she owes thanks and gratitude to her father. Having read books about psychiatry and the role of psychiatrists, Kamna was fascinated by the idea and process by which a Psychiatrist was able to help various clientele deal with challenges in one’s life and overcome it.
Intrigued and transformed by the experience and with the motivation and support of her family members, she pursued her Undergraduate Degree from Gargi College in New Delhi and henceforth never looked back.
The Stigma of Mental Health
Until very recently, Mental Health and Illness were always considered a taboo and a topic inviting shame and humiliation. Guided by ignorance and inexperience, Mental Health and Illness was not appropriately portrayed in mainstream culture and media.
A person with a mental illness or disorder was described as being crazy, a ‘lunatic,’ or a ‘retard,’ failing to represent the humanistic and individualistic perspective of it as well. These are the aspects she points out in regard to Indian Society.
The Doctor even points out that even today, Mental Health often does not receive the attention and acknowledgment it requires. Modern-day lifestyle tends to prioritize Physical health and therefore confers more sensitivity, consideration, and concern to the same.
“At the end of the day, if you look at it from an economic perspective and standpoint, a majority of the population struggles to meet its daily needs. Mental Health does not matter as much. The only thing matters are that they should have enough food at their table.
They will not even care about their physical health, as long as they can be productive and provide for their family. That automatically eliminates a large part of the population, that would divert their focus towards mental health.
At the same time, when you look at mental health as a concept, one must have a lot of understanding and awareness regarding it. Awareness will only happen if people are willing to talk and communicate about it. There exist a lot of misperceptions pertaining to it, which have not changed entirely with time.”
Dr. Kamna also goes on to say that the idea of using disorders such as depression and anxiety in daily conversation and discourse has been normalized a lot, so much so that it is considered fashionable to do so. People often fail to realize that Mental Health and related disorders hold a lot of significance and importance, contrary to current belief. On the one hand, exist a group of people who hold unaware and misguided notions regarding the same.
On the other hand, also exist a group of people who trivialize it. With both factors functioning, it contributes to the development of stigma and social prejudice. As a result, Mental Health becomes a topic that is shunned away by the majority. People with existing mental health problems refuse to diagnose or accept treatment for it and often also become victims of prejudice and social rejection and disapproval.
“The only change that can happen is an increasing level of awareness that must continuously be repeated and must come from a variety of sources, vectors, and role medals. Everyone must contribute to putting an impetus towards it. When it comes from a credible source, people are more likely to feel as if their emotions are validated.”
The Indian Education System
Dr. Chhibber points out that Education is not just about teaching and the accumulation of more information. Instead, it must focus on individual and personality development and holistic learning. Often in modern-day schooling infrastructure, current educational systems fail to provide the learning one requires in growing and developing as productive and active members of societies.
It fails to teach feelings of self-esteem and self-worth and thereby creates a spark of innovation. Children fail to interpret acquired information, form opinions, be creative, communicate, and collaborate and use what they learned in an external real-life setting.
“The above problem is prevalent not only in India, but I believe it applies to a larger global scale and is happening across the world. We fail to look at it from a perspective of potential challenges that could arise in the future. We end up taking a fire-fighting approach. By doing so, I make use of whatever resources are present and available.
People often come to me and talk about how frustrated they are with how current learning is being carried out. They talk about how they are often loaded with assignments and how often they are not able to understand anything that is being carried out.
One major value that this pandemic has taught us is how I must look within and introspect and think about what prospective planning must be done. This will prepare us for potential challenges that are bound to arise in the future. Planning works as the most important.
Life skills are all about exposure and experience. We have limitations that exist not just because of the system, but because of the system. Solution and planning have to pull and work together.”
Advice to Parents Out There
She advises the parents that they are solely responsible for the development and growth of a child, which entails huge sacrifice, effort, and accountability. The faith and ability in yourself to be a good parent require a lot of hard work and a sense of cognitive, mental, and emotional functioning and acuity.
Modern-day living with its various distractions, the worry of peer and social competition and evolution in emotional and behavioral mechanisms, makes the task even harder and impossible to comprehend. Advice and external help in such situations makes it easier and familiar for parents to deal and cope with situations and challenges that arise later on.
“Be facilitators of information. Being involved in your child’s life is the current need of the hour. Provide balanced and opportunities, not just for their education but space for them to grow and nurture as well. Even during this pandemic itself, irritability levels are high, and adolescents become more prone to resorting to fights or physical violence.
It is important to integrate them into routines. Make them feel that they are a part of the decision making processes. This will ease their accommodation and adaptability to difficult situations as well. Besides focusing on academics, parents are not able to give time and attention to their children, because of a number of situational factors and reasons.
Help them connect and interact with people around them. Encourage the importance of making conversation. Allow them to connect and bond socially with others. Be involved and informed about different activities that they need to partake in. Provide them with proper guidance. But also be flexible in providing them a space to grow.”
Maintaining Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic
In the current situation of Pandemic, Dr. Kamna Chhibber remarked Human beings are governed by the motive to affiliate, connect, and form relationships with those around them. One major after-effect of this pandemic has been the manner in which human interaction and social functioning have been affected. In an effort to prevent the spread of the virus, social interaction and activity have considerably changed. It has impacted not only everyday physical life but our understanding of social life and how we ought to relate to those around us.
“Mental Health is absolutely crucial at such a time. It holds importance in our life on a daily and cultural basis, despite whatever situation. In the present time and situation, its significance increases tenfold. Now the number of cases and criminal instances are increasing. People are not able to cope with such negative thoughts or avoid such situations that invoke such negative thoughts and behaviors.
Finding effective ways to protect oneself and maintain their sense of mental well being and emotional balance is the key. On whatever account people might be struggling, we must encourage them to see the help. Whether in terms of reaching out to experts or authorities. They must find support in the people around them.”
To generate awareness on the topic of Mental Health, Dr. Kamna was invited by TEDx in collaboration with IET, Lucknow, to give a talk and discussion. Through her speech, she focused on highlighting the importance of inclusiveness, removal of prevalent stigma, and shunning common misguided conceptions regarding mental and emotional well-being.
“The main message I was trying to communicate through the talk was that we need to become a little more sensitive to the fact that mental health is a reality and a real concern. We need to become far more aware, not just in the significant ways we might harm someone’s mental health. But also in small ways, we might express negligence towards mental health. On the one hand, We often use words such as anxiety, depression without necessarily understanding the context of it. Or when people come to us and tell us that they are suffering from anxiety or depression, we tend to belittle them.
The main idea was to become aware of mental health terminology. Second, was to develop a more sensitive approach when people ask and seek for help. Everyone must come together to make mental health a priority and must pledge together to find within themselves sensitivity and empathy to be able to support those requiring help around us. The more conversation and more interaction, the more awareness it will raise. Everyone is responsible.”
To sum it, the Doctor says that often in such situations, people tend to be more sympathetic than empathetic. Although both somewhat carry the same overlying theme, the messages that they send across are entirely different. Sympathy makes the other person feel guilty and feel as though someone is feeling bad for and about them. It makes a person feel like a victim and as though a burden to those around them, thereby leading to feelings of self-rejection and self-disapproval as well.
Whereas Empathy fosters feelings of understanding, compassion, and concern. Knowledge helps provide emotional and physical support in a better way.
(To know more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjVTDWv4w7g)
What’s the Advice to the Younger Generation?
When asked about a life motto, she would want others to live by continuously, Kamna spoke about the importance of Being Tolerant. Be tolerant of others’ viewpoints and give space for their perspectives as well. Don’t be continuously involved in the battle of trying to find right from wrong or vice versa.
~ Harbour a far greater sense of social responsibility. Find and look within for more altruism and sensitivity. Work together and try to find a collective solution. ~