Backpacker’s Guide Education

Watch out for each other

An extra awareness of those around us, is a skill worth learning.

Disclaimer: I’m not a mental health professional, not by a long shot. But like any concerned individual, I believe we have a shared responsibility to contribute to healing where we can, in the ways we can, when we see it’s needed. Or at the very least, we should be able to avoid adding to the problem.

Collective frustration

Perhaps we live in particularly troubled times; perhaps we bear the weight of histories that are only now being put into recognisable forms; perhaps we are at a point when collective frustration and anger resulting from this recognition has not yet made paths to recovery and reparation. And perhaps we’re also living in times when the deeply personal and the intensely political intersect in sometimes unbearable ways.

Maybe you’re thinking this is uncharacteristically deep for this column. So let me explain where I’m coming from. Hardly a day goes by without news — however small in terms of column inches — of a young person having ended his or her life, or having attempted to do so. The reasons given are many: too much pressure from family, from the system, from peers, from oneself; inner conflicts or failed relationships; online or offline harassment. The list goes on. In the wake of an unfortunate incident, we gather around in tight groups trying to pick apart the events leading to it, looking for people, institutions, and circumstances to blame. We quickly find a strong narrative thread that links what we know with what we think might be the case and who might be the cause — or the one who tipped the balance.

It’s understandable that we might want to make sense of why someone close to us might have taken this extreme step, and we want to analyse ourselves out of the shock. Certainly, going backwards to try to unravel the mystery of why someone did this can be useful. Beyond providing closure at a personal level, it can give us a sense of what to look for and how to prepare ourselves to keep it from happening again. While we work at making our institutions better and more responsive to individual needs, and while we build systems that are sensitive and inclusive, we also need to equip ourselves with the tools to deal with this at an individual and community level. I’m not about to go into a lecture on suicide prevention here — there is plenty of material available online and elsewhere to draw upon. There are also several groups who work on these issues and offer help for those who might be pushed to the brink, and those who would like to offer support. What I do want to point to, though, is the need for all of us to develop that extra awareness of those around us, the shifts in behaviour and mood and response that could point to unhappiness or despair.

Instead of losing ourselves in our smart devices, we could take the time to look and listen, and possibly, offer a response instead of being silent when we sense that need for connection in someone in our circle.

On the other hand, it’s also important to watch ourselves, and note what keeps us going and what brings us down, to recognise pressure points and find constructive ways to relieve tensions. And of course, to seek help — and take it — where we can. We all need to advocate for a healthier society and better institutional mechanisms to address mental health issues particularly among young people, but in the meantime, we need to watch out for each other, and for ourselves. And that, most certainly, is a skill worth learning — for living.

The author teaches at the University of Hyderabad and edits Teacher Plus. usha.bpgll@gmail.com

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 12:44:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/watch-out-for-each-other/article19523346.ece

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