Thursday, November 30, 2023

A tragedy

Today the young and the not-so-young in Nagaland are buckling under the stress of our increasingly competitive and somewhat fast-paced society. One can go further and even say that at least one out of ten adults in our urban areas is suffering from some kind of mental problems. Perhaps this could be the reason behind the rise in crime rate in the society. But that is besides the point here. To be precise, mental health problems of all types are steadily increasing in the state today. And here the absence of a functional Mental Health Authority in Nagaland is greatly felt. As State Commissioner for Persons with Disability, Diethono Nakhro rightly said during the observation of World Mental Health Day, it is a tragedy that Nagaland still doesn’t have a functional Mental Health Authority as mandated under the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017. “It is about being compassionate. It is about doing the right thing,” she said while urging the state to immediately put the necessary machineries in place to establish the statutory agency. Also reminding that the responsibility to create a supportive environment for those with mental health problems falls largely on the society, she lamented that the stigma and discrimination that come attached with mental health issues prevent people from talking about it openly. “People with mental health problems should be encouraged to seek treatment or help like they do in cases of any other physical ailments,” she stated. Today our students and youths are increasingly becoming victims of stress and anxiety. Also many youngsters find it difficult to communicate with their parents to discuss their problems. To make it worse, the pressure mounts as parents’ high expectations weigh heavily on children plagued by thoughts of failure. Considering the situation, it is time our society wakes up to the need for support services. To take an example, we know that in many developed societies patients undergoing surgery are even given both pre- and post-operative counseling, especially for life-threatening conditions. The thinking is that like medical counseling, psychological counseling can help significantly. But for whatever are the reasons, there appears to be no such support services in place here. Or even if there are, people do not avail the services. A major reason for this is the misconceptions about psychological counseling prevalent in the society. Few are aware of the effectiveness of consulting a counselor who is specially trained to help both patients and their families to cope with different kinds of mental problems. This is important since research in clinical psychology has shown that most mental illnesses are treatable. In fact it can be said that the problem lies primarily with family members of those suffering from mental illness. They are reluctant to consult a psychologist. In most cases, the family members suffer – and allow patients to suffer – silently, keeping mental problems a closely guarded secret. And this is a major problem, because it results in many cases remaining unreported. The main reason behind all these is that those suffering and their families are afraid of the social stigma attached to mental illness. The thinking here is that approaching a psychologist for help means they have serious mental health problems. A major cause of the stigma is the myths, misconceptions and negative feelings about mental illness still prevalent in the society. Sadly, this stigma has a detrimental effect on a person’s ability to find professional help and acceptance in the community. The mentally ill are often rejected by friends, relatives, neighbours and employers. In the process, this increases their feelings of insecurity, loneliness and depression, because they are excluded from family life, normal social networks, and employment opportunities. Likewise rejection of people with mental illness also affects the family of the mentally ill, thereby pushing them to isolation and humiliation. Clearly, it is time the community develop a more sympathetic and open-minded approach to dealing with mental health. Perhaps, the need here is to provide accurate information on the prevalence, causes, effects and treatment of mental illness. At the same time, every effort must be made to counter the negative feelings and misconceptions by providing adequate support and treatment services to those suffering individuals and their families. Besides, steps should be taken to create an atmosphere where the mind is without fear and the head is held high so that the mentally ill can live as equals among equals.