The pandemic has altered our life patterns and a lot of us are still trying to cope with the unprecedented changes that it has brought along with it. Staying indoors, handlings restrictions have not been easy. The Pandemic has accentuated mental health and it has affected people from all age groups. Not just Covid 19, but we are also in the midst of a Mental Pandemic. Probably because of this reason, the Union Budget this year has prioritized Mental health and has allocated resources in this direction.And yet mental health is something that is still needed to be taken into account seriously.
The concern with respect to mental health is on the rise among the vulnerable groups like senior citizens staying alone, kids who have been restricted for the past two years in their houses, single women, or people who have been bracketed out of society. They feel the pressure more than anything. And if we see among these groups the feeling of loneliness is rising steeply. Loneliness is a feeling when the need for human connection is not met. Loneliness is a complex feeling that overlaps the feeling of solitude yet is very different from it. Solitude can make an individual feel happy. But a feeling of loneliness is an unpleasant emotional state that an individual experiences. Loneliness is rarely acknowledged, deeply misunderstood, and alongside anxiety and depression, presents a massive opportunity for rectification as India copes with Covid-19 and beyond.
We all feel lonely from time to time. We can feel lonely while being in the midst of a crowd, someone can feel lonely in the coziness of having a family and some can also experience even while having a relationship. And mostly this arises when an individual feels not being understood or cared for. But that is not the only cause of loneliness. And having this feeling does not mean one has mental health issues. But there is an interlinkage. Having other psychological issues can trigger the feeling of loneliness in an individual. And if this feeling persists for a longer period of time, then it can aggravate other mental issues like anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, sleep problems, and increased level of stress.
The causes of loneliness present themselves in a wide spectrum. It can be either due to personal factors ( mental & physical health ) or from social aspects ( like quality & quantity of interactions ) or it can be situational like a life-changing event be it like loss of a loved one, a life-altering event like an abrupt end of a meaningful relationship. Overindulgence & addiction to passive technologies like the Internet & social media, and sometimes a self-perpetuating mindset can also trigger this feeling. The feeling of loneliness can also be experienced in successful people and those who experience strong married life. Feeling lonely for a shorter duration is experienced by many but if this persists for a long period of time then it can lead to chronic loneliness and can be a reason for worry.
And when an individual experiences loneliness or any other mental issues, they have an inhibition to open up due to fear of the judgemental society leading to acute levels of anxiety and depression.This can also lead to an individual trying to end his/ her life and can commit suicide.
Indian Scenario, a brief take:
India has always been a diverse, fragmented, and unique society. It is a developing economy and economical aspirations are on the rise. This has led to many migrating to cities and leading a congested yet isolated life. The urban-rural divide or the difference between the haves and have nots is ever-widening leading to many social conditions. The pandemic has caused the loss of livelihoods of many people and they have been suddenly pushed again below the poverty line. The work-from-home culture has become a norm for the past three years and the thin line that used to divide the professional space of the overburdened workforce with that of personal space has become almost blurred leading to a rise in mental issues including loneliness.
Social media is both a boon and a bane. Social media has helped people to stay connected, interact & share their views or opinions. But on the other side, the perils of it can also not be neglected. The anonymity that comes with social media brings in autonomy leading to people trolling others openly on social media, the addiction of it leads to the rise of anxiety, and even some use it to have a performative display of themselves own self. The rise of individualism in the name of self-love is slowly making the youth feel alienated in the country. The rise of digital penetration is somewhere the reason for the lack of social & face to face interactions leading to a rise in cases of loneliness.
India as a nation is still conservative about acknowledging that mental health or loneliness is a serious issue. The taboo attached to such disorders makes people uncomfortable in seeking help when they feel lonely, depressed, or anxious. The social conditioning is such that one who admits having mental issues is slowly cut off from society rather than being looked after. This is a serious problem. Though faced by all, still the elderly people face this challenge all the more who stay alone in a different city and their children work in different cities or nations. In India, as per the recently released Longitudinal Ageing Study of India, approximately 23% of the elderly stay alone, without children. There can be increased levels of blood pressure, high chances of developing depression & dementia.
The scenario in a few other nations:
Japan’s prime minister Yoshihide Suga, announced a minister of loneliness to his cabinet to tackle the serious and rising issue of suicide most prevalent among single women & the elderly. Tetsushi Sakamoto was appointed as the minister tackling loneliness in Japan in the year 2021. Considered a taboo subject, with most adults too scared to admit that they are lonely, the UK itself has close to 33% and the United States (US) close to 50% of its people who accept they are lonely.
Few ways that can help combat loneliness:
- Trying to accept and understand whether you feel solitude or lonely and how long does it persist.
- Reaching out to family, friends & loved ones if need be. Seeking local connections also can help immensely.
- Seeking professional help like therapy ,consulting a psc
- Engaging in your preferred hobbies helps in altering how one feels emotionally.
- Developing a healthy lifestyle including meditation, exercise, seeking spiritual solace ( as per one’s belief or faith),
- As a society, we need to understand, acknowledge the issue of persisting mental health. We have to instill empathy & understanding towards those feeling lonely
- Developing Infrastructure like wellness centers, setting up social clubs for desolated individuals be it elderly or anyone (single women/ vulnerable youth/kids, etc) is vital.
- Research & development about the causes & treatment of such issues is a must
- Developing a legal framework to protect the vulnerable group after taking into account the views of all stakeholders
- Normalizing and increasing discussions debates chats or talks concerning mental wellbeing.
These are just a few ways and can be said tip of an iceberg. A lot needs to be done so that we as a society survive this mental epidemic. Loneliness is like a slow poison, that if not treated can be so acute that it can lead one to commit suicide. Hence, it is high time we start taking mental health issues seriously
NB: Views expressed in this post are personal and for reading purpose only. They’re not medical advice. Each individual’s experience may vary. Please consult a professional if you need help.”