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5 Things That Are Completely Wrong About Our HRD Minister’s ‘Solutions’ For Mental Illness

Posted: July 10, 2020

HRD minister of this country Dr. Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ recently wrote an ‘opinion’ piece titled How to Battle Depression for a leading newspaper, showing the depth of his ignorance.

*Trigger Alert: This piece speaks about anxiety, depression and suicide and may be triggering to survivors.

The article that appeared in The Hindu is problematic in many aspects, and makes one wonder afresh at the ill-informed pronouncements some of our movers and shakers make about things that they clearly have no clue about.

Here are some problematic aspects of this:

Talks of suicide without a trigger alert

The very first sentence refers to Sushant Singh Rajput as “a bright star in Bollywood” without naming him, giving enough hints for identification and says “ended his life owing to depression” but the article has no content warning whatsoever.

Also the entire paragraph is about the actor and doesn’t mention suicide the word but calls it “an extreme step”.

Blames ‘modern life’ for stress and depression

The minister goes on to say bringing in the pandemic context that- “COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst inducing angst in the life of individuals who are already stressed because of various factors and modern lifestyles.”

While it is quite evident that the unprecedented pandemic has impacted psychosocial health for many and especially for those already facing a mental health challenge, making ‘modern lifestyle’ a direct and only culprit for rising stress is too short-sighted.

In fact there is an entire sub-head dedicated to ‘Stress and Modern Life’ where “more engagement with technology and less with people” is blamed for stress, completely forgetting that the government itself has been pushing for ‘Digital India’. The minister is also forgetting that increased online presences have become a necessary evil owing to lockdowns, as now there’s entirely work from home and 100% online education due to the pandemic. These are not choices made by most people freely but the ‘new normal’ that everyone is struggling with.

More working women = disruption in social fabric = depression?

What is even more disturbing the minister continues to say- “With the bridging of gender inequalities, increase in employment of women…”, “and disruption in the traditional joint family system, there is an underlying strain on the socio-cultural fabric. Some of this stress, if not handled well, can push human beings into depression.”

This is such a sexist and misogynist thought to peddle that more women in the workforce could be a cause of depression!

Also hailing the ‘joint family system’ as a panacea to all mental health issues completely ignores the fact that cases of child abuse and domestic violence were on the rise during the pandemic inside families closeted together, and that most conventional families in India are the source of trauma for many here, especially women, youngsters and those who identify as LGBTQIA+.

Baseless ‘philosophical’ claims to ‘curing depression’

Earlier in June 2020, spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar had also faced flak for similar nonchalant and baseless tweet about depression where he calls it a ‘tendency’ and urges people to ‘push’ those in such a state to his indigenous methods of ‘curing’ it.

In the same vein this article says, “Prescriptions for depression and anxiety can be found in the writings of Rabindranath Tagore.” Well, while reading any writing of their choice can be a comfort for many, it can definitely not be a ‘prescription’ for depression just like reading medical articles or journals are not a prescription for COVID19.

The minister has a one-stop solution to “end the misery of anxiety, depression and stress” through “positive and continuous communication” without caring or knowing that the country needs
~ more mental healthcare budgets,
~ proper policies and creating of safe spaces
~ less stigmatizing and abuse on Social Media by the dominant groups to create safe spaces.

India couldn’t launch a single number Mental Health Helpline even amidst a pandemic and the minister wants people to just “find meaning through communication and work”!

No focus on real issues or practical support

The current socio-economic and political situations, whether it was the massive migration in the earlier weeks, the growing domestic violence numbers, the spreading infection, the increasing unemployment have all been major sources of growing anxiety and stress for many. It would be better if the minister addresses those issues before preaching about depression philosophically like many Godmen before him have about depression.

The article concludes in the same spirit without any specific resources for people to reach out in mental distress which is usually the norm followed when writing about such topics.

If you or anyone you know is feeling suicidal, here are some of the helplines available in India. Please call. 
Aasra, Mumbai: 022 27546669
Sneha, Chennai: 044 2464 0050
Lifeline, Kolkata: 033 2474 4704
Sahai, Bangalore: 080 25497777
Roshni, Hyderabad: 040 66202000, 040 66202001

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Pooja Priyamvada is a columnist, professional translator and an online content and Social Media consultant.

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