It has long been understood that mental health in India is still a stigma for many people. Although the tide is changing, it is a slow, and sometimes exasperating, process. But where do our men lie in all of this?
Even in the most progressive countries, reports suggest women are consistently more likely to use mental health services than are men. What, you may wonder, is happening in India, then? The short answer – it’s bad, but only for now.
Men, in general, have been known to struggle in accepting they have mental health issues, and even if they accept it, they are more likely to delay treatment until the symptoms have become severe. This is only worsened by the gender norms men in India face, and the rapidly evolving gender dynamics.
Talking about mental health doesn’t come up readily in social environments. Even if men do want to share their issues with someone, they do not know how to go about it, or they feel embarrassed about it.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in its study found that 197 million Indians suffered from mental health disorders in 2017, which is about one in every seven individuals. Even talking statistically, the data clearly tells us that men do in fact suffer from mental health issues too.
It is often a touch-and-go scenario for men who choose to talk about mental health. Our society has inculcated into men that they have to be strong, they have to “man-up”, and they cannot show any signs of weakness. Initiating a dialogue then, let alone starting treatment, also becomes a concern – one that stops an individual from seeking help. But, we, the “woke generation” already know all of this, right? We know men have a difficult time expressing themselves. We know our male colleagues have been brought to be “tough”. We know that men also get depressed.
Toxic masculinity works as a double-edged sword for men. Not only does it prevent men from seeking help, but it is also at the root of many mental health disorders in men. This is especially true during transitions from high-school to college for adolescent males, where they might feel pressured to “prove” their masculinity.
This period is usually characterized by activities that, although might help in proving masculinity, have an overall negative effect.
Unrealistic and unattainable norms like having to be the sole breadwinner of the family, not being able to pursue careers often seen as feminine in nature, and having to earn a certain amount before “settling down”, coupled with having to control and restrict emotions, asserting their independence, and avoiding showing weaknesses or appearing “feminine” has only led to catastrophic mental health challenges for men. This is further worsened when men refuse to identify or seek help for issues like anxiety and depression.
A recent report by India’s Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry stated that more than 70% of callers to India’s national mental health helpline, KIRAN, since its launch, have been men. Despite the vast number of men dealing with mental health issues, access to professional psychologists and therapists is still very difficult, with one study suggesting only 0.12 psychologists per 100,000 Indians. Even if an individual were to realise they need help, they are left alone because of the lack of accessibility to qualified professionals.
Accessibility to mental health professionals is not the only issue though. There is also a dearth of India-specific knowledge and information about mental health issues in general – particularly so for men. This can be attributed to many factors like a lesser number of mental health oriented research institutes and a puny public spending policy on mental health.
Because of inaccessibility, intervention at the correct time becomes almost impossible. Nearly 250 Indian men died by suicide every day in 2018, a number that is more than double the number of women. The absence of intervention and treatment has serious consequences, which are also often irreversible.
There also exists no adequate platform for men to address their mental health issues and discuss them. For knowledge to be transferred to the masses, there is a need for a platform that can do that without distorting the information. Such platforms are a rarity in countries like India where talking about mental health is still hush-hush.
If you look at the stats mentioned above or just at the holistic picture, it may seem grim right now – but things definitely are taking a turn for good. People are realising the importance of addressing mental health issues, which is also paving a way for discussions in public forums. There are many interesting studies that are constantly being churned out, helping us to understand better how mental health disorders affect both men and women. Here are five things you can do to help.
1. Encourage a dialogue
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to help reshape the debate around the stigma that mental health carries is by encouraging open discussions in public forums as well as initiating a dialogue back at home. By doing this, you are telling those who suffer from mental health disorders that it’s okay to talk about it and it’s okay to wish for recovery and that this is something that can be treated.
2. Unconditional Support
When we say unconditional support, we mean standing by the person even if they choose not to seek professional help. Although it might be in their best interest and you may feel it is the only way out, you have to understand that the person suffering is doing the best they can given the circumstances. While you may advise them to seek help, it might not always be the case. Sometimes knowing there is someone who cares enough and can be spoken to is also enough for people suffering from such disorders.
3. Try not to judge
It is important for the other person to know that when they choose to confide in you, they will not be judged. This can become a severe hindrance, especially when those suffering from mental disorders decide to seek help and are adjudged “crazy” and “psychopathic”. Many men choose not to seek help because they fear they would be judged and would be termed “weak” and “sensitive”.
4. Do not dismiss or ignore
When you dismiss or ignore an individual’s feelings of sadness and loneliness, you are indirectly telling them these feelings are inconsequential. It becomes pivotal to acknowledge such feelings, especially when you feel the same way too. Dismissing feelings is not a solution.
5. Suggest seeking professional help
The best thing that you can do when you know your friend or partner or relative is suffering from mental health issues is suggesting to seek professional help. This way, you are telling them that it is normal to seek help. This is also important because you will not have all the right answers to their questions, which is where a psychologist steps in. It is always better to give no advice than to give wrong advice.