There was a time before the advent of the internet, the spread of social media and digital content networks, when the average person did not have access to a world of information. This comparatively information-starved world, which our parents and grandparents were born into, did not facilitate the viral spread of ideas and information across the barriers of class, community or geography. In such a world, people reacted to upsetting situations out of fear, and thus was born the stigma around mental health.
We live in a different world now. We are all connected to the information superhighway, the internet, and we see and share content from all around the world. Information dispels ignorance and fear, and gives people the power of new ideas to change their lives. In this bright new age, we really have no excuse to continue to live with stigma around something so important as mental health.
People are more health conscious now, with the rise of movements to promote healthy eating, healthy living, fitness and yoga, as well as the call for better healthcare facilities for everyone. Schools, colleges and corporates are all promoting various physical health initiatives. When we can be so passionate about physical health, why do we still shy away from addressing the issue of mental health? A healthy mind is just as important as a healthy body, especially in this day and age where the prevalence of depression, anxiety, stress and other mental health issues is soaring.
Like-Share-Subscribe—you’ve all heard this mantra at the end of every video that social media content creators use, to ask their audiences to promote their content. I think, we can apply this in the context of creating awareness around mental health, especially since this is something that the youth of our nation can do as change-makers.
‘Like’: Talking about mental health
We put up so much content on our social feeds to earn those “likes" from our friends and followers. We post what we eat, where we go, who we hang out with. We hardly use social media to talk about things that bother us or about difficult situations that we go through.
I think, there is great potential for our social networks to become places where people can share their stories, support others and to get support while going through difficult times. If we can get “likes" on our latest vacation photos, we should also be able to get the same support from our circles for real issues that we talk about. It comes down to each of us being brave enough to share and being fearless enough to support and encourage others who share. Maybe, one day, the hashtag #YouAreNotAlone will actually be true. Using social networks to help people feel supported can be the first step in removing stigma and enabling a more mental health positive world.
‘Share’: Using the power of networking
On an average, a person shares at least three pieces of content online on some platform or the other. From videos of animals doing funny things to the latest viral challenge, we watch and share things that we think are interesting, with our friends. There’s a lot of positive content about mental health online, and even more can be created by young content creators. What if we were to share empowering stories, useful facts about mental health and even information about providers of mental health care services? We could use the power of social media to help connect people to stories that will help them understand what they’re going through, or to connect them to other people, who can help them. Even talking to someone who’s going through similar situation as you are can be mutually beneficial. At the very least, sharing this kind of content online will help normalize the issue.
‘Subscribe’: Following and promoting the cause
Young people have this amazing capacity to champion and promote the things that they believe in. In recent times, we’ve seen the magnitude of change they can create when they use their passion for a cause and the power of digital mediums—be it in helping people in areas affected by natural calamities or in overturning laws that are inhumane. If our youth, our influencers and our change-makers can subscribe to the simple idea that just as the body gets unwell, the mind too gets unwell from time to time, then we will start to see a world of change. It falls on each of us to subscribe to the topic of mental health, to learn more about it, to follow the developments related to it, and to lend our voices to creating more conversations around it.
Stigma around mental health is something that we have inherited from generations before us, because they did not have access to information. Let this not be an inheritance that we hold on to. Let’s wipe out the stigma and build in its place, a supportive, empathetic and “woke" environment, where mental health is treated with the seriousness, kindness and dignity that it deserves.
This is the last edition of the Mind Matters column which looks to alleviate the stigma around mental health at work.
Neerja Birla is the chairperson and founder of Mpower, a movement that aims to affect a positive change in the attitude towards mental health.