Healing minds, and believing in hope

The Hindu Lit for Life 2021’s penultimate session focussed on mental health, and the final one was a much-needed sobering session.

November 13, 2021 10:00 pm | Updated 10:02 pm IST

Shekar Sheshadri.

Shekar Sheshadri.

In coping with COVID-19, we talk of the second and imminent third wave, but there is also a fourth wave, said veteran child psychiatrist Shekhar Seshadri — that of mental health issues brought on by the pandemic.

On its second day, The Hindu Lit for Life’s penultimate session focussed on mental health. Dr. Seshadri; along with Director of National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Pratima Murthy; and director of Centre for Mental Health Law & Policy, Indian Law Society, Soumitra Pathare were in conversation with behavioural neurologist and neuropsychiatrist Ennapadam S. Krishnamoorthy.

In a discussion exploring mental health in COVID-19 times, Dr. Pathare pointed out how the pandemic had strained an already strained system. “Middle class India discovered mental health during the pandemic,” he said. “We have always had a shortage of human resources for mental health. And now, post-COVID, a more well-off and vocal class of Indians has suddenly developed mental health issues, and have crowded out those with meagre resources, who are now even less likely to get the help they need.” It is an odd situation when awareness for mental health has decreased while accessibility to it has decreased, he added.

The speakers dissected the causes of anxiety, with Dr. Murthy talking about domestic violence and substance abuse and de-addiction. (A significant portion of suicides among women have a history of domestic violence, and those among men, a history of alcoholism.)

Despite people with mental health issues being a vulnerable group, it was only one week ago that the Supreme Court ordered states in India to make Covid-19 vaccinations available to everyone detained in a mental health facility and to the staff.

Holding on to hope

This much-needed sobering session was followed by a hopeful one — Lit for Life’s final discussion was between philosopher and monk The Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi and N. Ravi, Chairman of Kasturi & Sons Ltd and publisher of The Hindu Group of Newspapers.

The two discussed Priyadarshi’s book, Running Toward Mystery, a profound account of his journey to becoming a monk -- part personal, part philosophical reflections. The President and CEO of The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ran away from home as a 10-year-old boy, willing to renounce the traditional world, and ended up at a Buddhist monastery.

“We are often running in fear, away from things, but to run towards the unknown requires overcoming fear,” he says, apropos of this era of uncertainties. And so, he continued, “It would be remiss if we went back to the familiar… The pandemic has made us pause and reset, allowing us to prioritise what is important to us. It is important to not let go of hope; even the Renaissance was preceded by the plague.

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