They Profit Off My Depression: A Poem

I used to think the problem with depression is that
there cannot be a poster child for it, no brand ambassador,
because depression is like YouTube channels
everyone subscribes to a different set

depression, is like humour,
everyone has a different palate
And everyone draws the line of tolerance differently.

but more so,
depression is like a soup
served to you burning hot
an appetizer for a hell-hole

and everyone has different utensils.
so even if the ingredients are the same
each is a secret recipe
handed over to you by your personal dementors

But you
you successfully commercialised my illness.
made a commodity out of the dark place
did some calculations about how
desperate the depressed soul is to travel towards light
you understood it before even my psychologist did
that I’d do anything to stop drowning
even seek support in the floating straws

So you made an industry reeking of pity
and labelled it self-care when labels are what ruined us,
sold in the form of aromatic candles, bubble baths, bullet journals,
badges that shout, “good vibes”
but sucked all of mine
and money
when I was already struggling with the therapist’s fee
and all along, my depression was your ally

So does that mean
that the more wretched that people are
and the more people that are wretched
are your profits?

So does that mean
that the more wrecked that people are
and the more people that are wrecked
are your profits?

but how can someone’s misery
be someone else’s happy news?

my depression tells me
that’s just life
So I wonder (and hope)
if death would be less selfish.


Featured Image: Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

If you or someone you know is dealing with depression, suicidal ideation or similar symptoms, please reach out to iCall helpline at 022-25521111 (available 8 am – 10 pm, Monday to Saturday in India), The Samaritans. (116 123 Or email jo@samaritans.org.uk) in the UK.

What Disney’s Frozen Teaches Us About Emotional Wellbeing

Disney’s Frozen movies depict emotional struggles much realistically than any other representation of mental illness in cinema.

[CW: Spoilers for both Frozen 1 and Frozen 2; TW: mention of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation]
In the song “The Next Right Thing” in Frozen 2, Anna is feeling visibly desolate and bereft, as she hums,

I’ve seen dark before,

But not like this.

This is cold, this is empty, this is numb.

The life I knew is over.

The lights are out.

Hello, darkness.

I’m ready to succumb.

Just a few moments before this, Anna’s magic-bearing elder sister Elsa turned to ice as she met her (temporary) magical death and Olaf flurried away, disintegrating right in her arms. It is a moment of Fridge Horror, as the full extent of her loss dawns on her. She continues singing, “This grief has a gravity. It pulls me down.” This debilitating lack of resolve finds resonance for those who live with depression and/or suicidal ideation. Fatigue, hopelessness, loss of interest and apathy are often just the tip of the iceberg — depression is capable of clawing its way much deeper into one’s life, impairing our emotions, relationships, careers — often irreparably.

FROZEN IN TIME: The show must go on?

I think back to the first time I watched the movie and what I was expecting would happen next. Conventionally, stories would exploit this moment to project Anna as a phoenix rising from the ashes. They’d justify this portrayal with a seemingly innocuous argument like “the show must go on.” It would be seen as a moment for Anna’s character to do something heroic, to seek vengeance. But not Frozen. “The Next Right Thing” is revolutionary in that it lets Anna be human in her moment of loss. It doesn’t create a spectacle out of it. It does not glamourise her sadness or grief by painting her as brave or optimistic. Instead, it lets her break down under the weight of her crushing loss, shatter and emerge from it in broken pieces. And that is what makes it real.

It does not glamourise her sadness or grief by painting her as brave or optimistic.

So, when she heads out to face the world, she decides she will take it one step at a time, “I won’t look too far ahead. It’s too much for me to take.” On the other side of the screen, the viewers get a little more comfortable with the progress they’ve made in their own healing. It’s silent, but it’s there.
Let’s be downright honest about this. When it comes to the empathetic depiction of people living with a mental health issue or going through an emotional crisis, pop culture is culpable of doing more harm than good. The narratives in the movies and media, at large, are damaging, often depicting people with mental health problems on either extreme: demonized as perpetrators of violence or worshipped as tortured artists. The reality, however, is that plenty of people live with their illnesses in an ongoing way, leading what we consider “normal” lives.
Even in Frozen (both 1 and 2), there is an awakening — redemption in the midst of a crisis and disruption. What a flair for the dramatic! But the writers don’t sensationalise it just to create a titillating plot. At least, not at the cost of authenticity. In that respect, the Frozen universe presents itself as a microcosm of the world we live in. A little flawed, a little damaged, a little hopeful. Let’s look at this in a bit more detail:

Stigma, Shame, Struggle

Society is so obsessed with conformance to the status quo that anyone who is born different or dares to choose a different path instantly becomes a target of judgemental stares.
In the first movie, when the secret of Elsa’s power gets out, she runs to the North Mountain and builds herself a glass castle. She preempts her fate. She knows that she’d be shunned and ostracised. Later, the villain Prince Hans leaves her chained and bound, confirming this theory. In fact, let’s consider how their parents dealt with the ‘situation’. As kids, the sisters used to play together. One accident and the entire tone of their relationship changes. Why? The parents decide to keep Elsa house-bound and isolated with an echoing “Conceal it, don’t feel it.” Of course, the parents were being protective and doing what they thought was the best for her. It is a telling commentary of how we deify emotional repression at the cost of our authentic selves, just because we don’t want to be the deviant one, the eccentric one, the anomaly.
Usually, I’d argue that metaphors are a dangerous territory to tread when you are dealing with a sensitive topic. After all, they leave humongous room for (mis)interpretation. However, in the case of Elsa, her journey perfectly encapsulates how people with mental health struggles live. They believe their behavioural patterns make them unlikeable, they build up walls (or literal ice castles), push people away, indulge in self-blame, try to repress their true feelings. They build a cocoon for themselves where they believe they can protect their loved ones from harm, even if it’s artificial insulation. Going forward, her journey of “letting go” and “showing herself” is a massive act of self-care. Or as Audre Lorde worded it,

Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.

Grief and its many frozen companions

Going back to the time they were growing up, the dysfunction is hard to overlook. None of us escapes childhood unscathed, and the movie does not gloss over the impact of their odd childhoods (Anna was locked out of the loop and Elsa, as mentioned before, was shunned to her room) that they carry into their adult lives — learning, unlearning and healing — now that they have a fresh awareness of the possibilities of life. In Frozen 2, we find out that Arendelle and Northuldra had a tumultuous past based on deceit, exploitation and oppression. The sisters, then, also have the legacy of intergenerational trauma to carry with them.

None of us escapes childhood unscathed, and the movie does not gloss over the impact of their odd childhoods on their adult lives.

And then we have Olaf. If you think Olaf is just here for comic relief, think again. In Frozen 2, he is almost existentially ruminating over the impermanence of life and things. And surely, the song “When I’m older” doesn’t just exist to pepper the musical with some humour. The resemblance of the song to a near-panic attack is very obvious. The plot doesn’t downplay Olaf’s overwhelming anxiety in the midst of uncertainties and catastrophic events.

The most important of all: Kindness

The movies also teach us a lesson in kindness, more specifically, self-compassion. By repressing our true emotions and identity, we do a great disservice to our brilliant, authentic selves. Humans are a heartbreaking mess of flesh and bones and it is upon us to let ourselves be this flawed, loving mess.

Frozen movie

Elsa is finally happy in the enchanted forests, where her magic can flourish and be understood; Anna takes the reins of the kingdom of Arendelle. The message is clear: happiness carries a different meaning for everyone. We are all chasing our own definition of it.
Normalising the mental health conversation is an intended byproduct of the movie, as pointed out by the creators. The sequel is proof that if a story is told well — and authentically, it can be an unassuming paragon of empathetic representation. This heartwarming animation talks about mental health without ever talking about it. And in the process, Frozen serves its purpose: we all feel seen, and a little less alone than before.

Featured Image Credits

Previous Post:

https://atomic-temporary-165118481.wpcomstaging.com/2020/05/20/interview-sasha-greene-author-something-like-happy-mental-health-advocate/

Feeling Low In The Lockdown? Here Is Yet Another Explanation

Research shows that people feel happier when they have more variety in their daily routines–when they go to novel places and have a wider array of experiences.

It is possible that moving around the city contributes to our happiness.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given us enough to stress about — from the first time we came face-to-face with information about the novel coronavirus, about which we barely had information. Self-isolation, physical distancing and government-ordered lockdowns have been the buzzwords for months now. We have moved into a work-from-home set-up. Schools and colleges have pivoted to online modes of education. We have revisited the idea of socialisation by having ‘Zoom parties’.

Despite all our attempts to retain a certain semblance of control on our lives and routines, the psychological impact of the pandemic — and the sheer uncertainty it has brought along with it — cannot be discounted. For people living with psychosocial disabilities, this time presents a particularly difficult challenge. Some of their triggers can intensify and symptoms can aggravate. Even in general, people are finding it hard to cope. Social media is inundated with memes, quips and viral tweets about all days have rolled into one, how it is difficult to differentiate one day from another. The hopelessness associated with this monotony might have an explanation after all.

Happiness and a change of routine

In a recent Nature Neuroscience paper, the researchers investigated a simple question. Is diversity in humans’ daily experiences associated with more positive emotional states or happiness? The research was conducted prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, its findings hold succinct relevance for the current times, when mobility is constrained (and rightfully so).  Experiential diversity — what we would call a ‘change of scenery’ — has a positive correlation with our sense of wellbeing.

“Our results suggest that people feel happier when they have more variety in their daily routines–when they go to novel places and have a wider array of experiences,” explains Catherine Hartley, an assistant professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology and one of the paper’s co-authors.

In order to reach these findings, the researchers first conducted GPS tracking of participants for 3-4 months. They recorded the participants’ emotional state through a text message report. The participants would share if they felt positive or negative on a day. The findings from this round showed that when people had more variability in their physical location — meaning when they visited more locations on a particular day, they described their state of being through positive labels and associations like “happy,” “excited,” “strong,” “relaxed,” and/or “attentive.” To determine if the physical/geographic exploration and positive moods had a connection to brain activity, they conducted another exercise consisting of MRI scans. Brain activity confirmed the impact of these positive moods on the regions of the brain that process novelty and reward.

What came first: Positive emotions or novel experiences?

An interesting takeaway from the study is that our subjective sense of wellbeing and the diversity and novelty of experiences — both seem to share a reciprocal relation. We are inclined to seek rewarding and exciting experiences due to positive feelings. In turn, positive feelings arise due to engaging in such experiences.

In fact, the researchers note that even small changes in our physical or mental routine can be as exhilarating. These could include doing yoga at home, heading out for a stroll, taking a different route to the store, engaging in agile indoor sports, trying your hands at a new dance class. That our happiness is tied to routine changes that can be implemented easily is good news for us, as we abide by the rules of physical distancing in lockdown. The psychological toll that isolation and monotony can take is not be discounted, therefore.

Featured Image: Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash

 

Previous Post:

It is okay to have a bad day — and to cry when you do: In Conversation with Sasha Greene, Author of Something Like Happy

We sit down with Sasha Greene, author of Something Like Happy to discuss how we can write about mental health and mental illness in fiction

Content warning: This interview discusses writing mental health in fiction and contains some references to suicide, depression and suicidal thoughts.


Happiness is an ambiguous feeling. It is thoroughly subjective, for starters. Your definition of happiness is different from mine. In fact, the meaning of happiness keeps changing with time. And that makes the pursuit of happiness that much tricky. In the book Something Like Happy (SLH), ninety-two-year-old Archie tells Nick while waiting for an ambulance, “You’ll know when the call hits you, lad…But also don’t forget things can change. What you need at one point in your life might not be the same some other time. Look at me. Twenty years ago, I couldn’t have thought of leaving the mountains. Now I’m really happy to be close to our Maisie and the family. You just have to listen to your heart, lad.” The novel is peppered with unpretentious gems of wisdom like this one. 

A romance novel, SLH takes a light-hearted look at how people navigate and articulate their mental health, including their grief. For the most part, this navigation and articulation is a work-in-progress; the legacy of loss and the accompanying sadness largely looming. But human beings are resilient. They manage to make it through one day after another. They learn to let their loss change them. So, when Jade, who has experienced this loss, meets Nick, who is so close to giving up, who saves whom? Something Like Happy is the story that answers this. 

I (virtually) sat down with Sasha Greene, the author of Something Like Happy, to ruminate over the nuances of writing mental illness into fiction, drawing on lived experiences and letting our emotions have a life of their own. 

Sasha Greene, Author of Something Like Happy
Sasha Greene, Author of Something Like Happy

We start with the basics. Why write a book whose messaging revolves so strongly around mental health? More importantly, how does a writer decide to dive into this rather sensitive and precarious theme?

Sasha: Initially, I fell into it by accident. This was at the start of my writing career. I started thinking of a character — a soldier who had PTSD. This was at a time when soldiers were coming back from Afghanistan and other countries. I soon realised how complex this issue was. At this point, I kept researching more and more about mental health. Then, I made two trips to Nigeria for work. I took some anti-malarial medication for the same and had a bad reaction to it. After my first trip, I was depressed. After returning from the second trip, I was having suicidal thoughts.

[Research has suggested some anti-malarial drugs to be associated with adverse psychological reactions, including suicidal ideation, depression and anxiety.]

What really helped me was knowing what my next steps should be — starting with visiting my GP — since I had done all this research for years.

Even after you seek help and if things improve, some vestiges of your experiences can remain, life is always sort of this process of knocking down and building up.

Glasgow
Photo by Ross Sneddon on Unsplash

Most people with lived experience that I know have wondered — at some point — about how the conversation around mental health can be normalised, made more comfortable. Was the book written with the conscious goal of eliminating or attacking the stigma associated with mental illness or emotional suffering?

Sasha: If society could just educate more people about mental health in the same way as we do physical health, it would make a world of difference. There are people who may not necessarily talk to their family about it. But reading fiction on the theme might just provide them with that segue. The message is simple: it is okay to talk about it. 

Similarly, I think there are people who might read a fiction book but not a non-fiction book about the topic. Telling stories always helps. 

Telling stories always helps.

The very first chapter of the book – where the key characters meet for the first time, is a rather sensitive opening. Was it a conscious choice to create a sense of light-hearted anguish to set the tone for the rest of the book?

Sasha: Writing a book is an iterative process. In one of the earlier iterations, Nick would have acted upon his thoughts and Jade talked him down to save him. But the final draft only shows him thinking about it. I think it comes back to the message. I wanted to show that if you catch someone at the right point, if you intervene and ask the right questions, you have a chance to help them before it gets worse. That way, Jade also manages to catch his interest, because to his mind, he has got nothing left to lose. 

I was very cautious and aware of the fact that I was dealing with a very heavy topic. Jade grieving for her sister, Nick dealing with his mental health issues. I wanted to keep it light-hearted to a certain extent, otherwise, the book would have just been too heavy. 

The story is indeed clear on that. Recovery isn’t linear. And SLH doesn’t make the mistake of pretending otherwise. 

It also doesn’t pretend that the constant pursuit of happiness is the ultimate goal. Which brings us to the title of the book. Why call it ‘Something Like Happy’?

Sasha: It is very interesting that society tells us to chase happiness. It seems a very elusive goal. I don’t think it is good to be happy all the time. I don’t think people have absorbed these ideas yet — that it is okay to have a bad day — and to cry when you do. There’s no need for constant outer positivity, this performative happiness. We don’t have to be happy; just ‘something like happy’ is enough.

Books on Mental Health Something Like Happy
Source

It is oddly reassuring to hear those words out loud, even though I’ve been staring at the title of the book for over a week. Time for a deep dive. How does an author determine how a character would cope? Grief, for example, is complex as it is. The accompanying trauma, shame, isolation, guilt, blame, rumination, anger, stigma only compound the grief for the suicide-bereaved families. Imagine getting all these complicated layers on paper. Etching characters with all these emotions. Who were they before they experienced loss? How will this experience change them? How will they carry on with their lives?

Sasha: When you write romance, each character goes on their own journey in that they are not the same person at the end of the book as they were in the beginning. For Nick, it was coming to terms with his mental health and talking to people about it more openly. For Jade, I think, it is more about coming to terms with the fact that she is not responsible for what happened to her sister. 

When I write romance, of course, I bring them together in the end, but I think a lot about what is going to keep them apart during the book.

For Jade to have gone through this experience was pertinent to this plot. First of all, she possibly wouldn’t have noticed the signs when she first met Nick if she hadn’t been through this before with Ruby. She would have probably just walked on.

Secondly, the déjà vu was also what made her reluctant to be involved with him. The hesitation is what kept them apart. Otherwise, she might have been more ready to help him with everything that he was going through. 

In the same vein, the book sets itself apart by looking at survival through a day-to-day lens. It is very refreshing to see a plot that deals with sensitive issues, while a) being infused with responsible humour and b) without medicalising the life being lived. There is another idea that the book really nails: how there’s not one thing/person that ‘rescues’ you, but a multiplicity of factors. 

Sasha: You know how we go through life, picking up different interests and habits from different people? A grandparent got you into gardening, a parent hated maths, someone was the party-planner in your friends’ group. Healing is the same way. You need different people to help you in different ways. You need the qualified professionals to help their way, family and friends as a support system, to accept you as who you are. And your own self. 

As for the humour, I would love to say that I purposely put humour at certain points, but I think it is more organic. I didn’t go through this scientifically to put humour at certain places for maximum effect. People have a sense of humour. When things are bad, this sense of humour helps you get by. It was also things I picked up along the way as a reader. I would suggest to anyone who wants to write – read a lot of whatever it is that you want to write. 

People have a sense of humour. When things are bad, this sense of humour helps you get by.

Photo by George Kourounis on Unsplash

It reminds me of something that Scottish comedian Daniel Sloss said about dark humour in his stand-up special Jigsaw: people make dark jokes in an attempt to “bring a level of humanity — laughter — back to a moment that seems to lack it. Tragedy.”

Sasha: I read a book called Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger as a part of my research. The book talks about how people who came back from war, into a very close-knit community, or ‘tribe’, felt less disoriented than people who didn’t have that kind of support. These people served in the army in some capacity and coming back into their tribe helped them hold on to the ‘importance’ of the work they did. For the latter, the mundaneness of everyday life made them more susceptible to PTSD episodes. And yet, it’s important not to generalise. Mental health as a theme is so interesting because each person’s journey is so different.

But having a support system, a ‘tribe’ can be so helpful. Even so, it doesn’t manifest so simply. People change. But when you have changed and your family or partner haven’t, or they don’t accept that change, you can sense the strain. In my experience, it is why sometimes relationships break down.

Overall, the book is pieced together from a lot of conversations I had with different people. I talk to strangers on trains and buses and it is fascinating. And there’s my personal experience, too. I was bullied at school when I was younger, and even though it has less and less bearing on my life the older I get, the aftertaste lingers. So I chat with people, have conversations, and let myself be fascinated by the sheer uniqueness of every story.

Photo by Kaitlyn Chow on Unsplash

Places, environment and the familiarity of these impact so much of our mental health. So I am tempted to ask if the Scottish setting of Glasgow and Fort William had an impact on the story, plot, characters, themes? Jerry Pinto, author of Em and the Big Hoom (a psychological fiction detailing his mother’s manic depression) talked about how living in Mumbai informs his art. He once said in an interview, ‘We live and love on a fissure…it is a source of unending inspiration, of magnificent material.’ 

Sasha: Glasgow harbours extremes within the city. I wanted the book to be set in the city and for it to seem like a slice of the city – hence the characters were working at local places, the dad was a taxi driver. With Glasgow, I think of the city as that friend who is extremely pretty, but they don’t know that they are.

With Glasgow, I think of the city as that friend who is extremely pretty, but they don’t know that they are.

My last question sounds like an inquiry, a cry for help and a protective missive all in one: As a writer, how do you hold on to yourself in the process? Do you let the characters get under your skin? How do YOU take care of your mental health?

I try to treat it as a job. I work 4 days a week at my day job. Monday is my writing day, so I treat it like any other work; so I sit down and I write. I try not to let it take over my life too much at other times but sometimes it’s hard!

I do understand that these stories can be too realistic for someone looking for escapism. For others, it is able to help them open the door for conversations, which is great. 

In the end, I am in this to write stories that I feel haven’t quite been told before. Stories that can talk about these themes in a way they haven’t been spoken of yet. 


You can get Something Like Happy at your nearest local bookstore or online: Amazon India, Amazon UK, Amazon US, Kindle, KoboHarper Collins website, Flipkart

Website: www.sashagreene.com, Twitter: @sashagreeneauth

Features Image Credit: Photo by Ross Sneddon on Unsplash

If you or someone you know is dealing with depression, suicidal ideation or similar symptoms, please reach out to iCall helpline at 022-25521111 (available 8 am – 10 pm, Monday to Saturday in India), The Samaritans. (116 123 Or email jo@samaritans.org.uk) in the UK.

Previous Post:

Elderly Mental Health: Looking At The Gaps in The Conversation

Depression is not a consequence of old age. Here’s why elderly mental health is a concern for society as a whole and how we can go beyond the politics of ‘othering.’

In faded trousers and plaid
shirts they came,
tired and worn,
common in their fame,
each one the others only
remaining friend.
Life starts out as a newborn baby
and slowly becomes old men.

(From the poem Old men in the park by John Malcolm Pouch)

All poetry about old age conjures up a vivid image of being — of growing up and growing old. We are made acutely aware of the inevitability of the process. We cannot escape growing old, yet society places little emphasis on our emotional, psychological, and social well-being in the later years. In fact, in many cases, depression in older adults goes undiagnosed1. Instead, it is often brushed off as a natural by-product of ageing or confused with other illnesses. 

Today, as we slowly break the stigma around mental well-being, mental illness and the like, the young receive a fair share of advocacy. But when it comes to the mental health of the elderly, the public discourse seems to be limited to cognitive and intellectual impairments like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. What can we do to make it more inclusive? And what may be holding us back? Let’s see.

Elderly Mental Health: Putting together the words

Currently, 600 million people around the world belong to the 60+ age group. This number will double in the next five years. By 2050, the population of older adults is likely to hit the two-billion mark, with developing countries accounting for a majority share2

The WHO estimates that depression affects around 7 per cent3 of the global elderly population today. What further compounds the issue is the fact that the aged are more susceptible to other physical and cognitive disabilities. So, the slope is rapidly rising without adequate preparedness to handle the disease magnitude on many fronts. 

It does not help that several misconceptions and stereotypes have marred our perception of the ageing process. Everywhere, we portray growing old as an expected sadness or as an everyday ennui. More often than not, we assume ageing would bring an unnecessary crankiness. Considering that depression is the most common mental health disorder affecting the elderly, this narrative ought to take a sharp u-turn. Instead of viewing older people as the ‘other’ and assuming that they are alien to us, adopting the approach of ‘bridging and belonging’4 could do wonders in shaping the conversation and creating adequate mental health interventions. 

‘Othering’ on ageist Grounds

everyone is susceptible to experience ageism if they live long enough

In sociology, we understand othering as a process of stigmatisation or objectification of another person or group in a negative light. This comparison or exclusion is usually made to justify one’s own positive identity. Of course, no one is comfortable acknowledging their privilege. In this case, however, the impact is seen across ages. How? Negative societal views and stereotypical representations of old age affect people across the age continuum. The elderly end up feeling alienated, while the younger people internalise these ageist attitudes. The result? It hampers their self-perception as they themselves grow older.

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash

Research suggests that ageism may even be the most pervasive of the “isms,” surpassing sexism and racism. According to Ayalon and Tesch-Römer (2017), “Age changes with time and people are likely to change age group affiliation, with the passage of time. Hence, in contrast to the other two isms, everyone is susceptible to experience ageism if they live long enough.” And it can take many shapes, such as prejudicial viewpoints, discriminatory practices, and institutional policies that perpetuate negative beliefs5.

Moreover, the current narrative expects older adults to fade into the background upon retiring. Why? They are no longer the members of the so-called productive workforce. Such perceptions, policy neglect, and the consequent marginalisation could prove to be more unsettling in a country like India, which loves to turn the spotlight on its demographic dividend. This ‘us versus them’ thinking pervades the mental health landscape and policies and creates a seemingly irreparable rift.

Figure: Levy’s PEACE Model6

The Indian context

India is home to 104 million older adults, who represent 8 per cent of the country’s total population. The figure is expected to reach 20 per cent by the end of 20507

In the traditional joint family structure, both young and old were absorbed with mutual harmony. But as Indian families undergo the process of nuclearisation with limited outlets to absorb the old parents, the feelings of loneliness, rejection, and social isolation also come to the fore. As a matter of fact, even in residential and community care institutions, senior citizens face disrespect and are habitually treated as a burden. 

At the same time, being with the family does not guarantee emotional support or social security. The elderly can also face many forms of exploitation and abuse from their near and dear ones. 

The bigger picture, The Way Out

We need to adopt a multi-faceted approach to promote the general mental health and quality of life of the seniors. The presence of older people and the problems they encounter in their daily life have far-reaching impacts on the structure and functions of the economy and society. Also, “old people” are who we all will become, which further reinstates that elderly mental health is a psychosocial and structural problem. So, how can we address it?

Medical research is an integral part of the solution architecture, but we also need interventions that go beyond just psychopathology. Our respect for the elderly should translate into their representation across popular culture and the media. Sometimes, even the most well-intentioned advocates can further negative generalisations, and positive messaging is inherent to creating greater awareness around this issue.

Therefore, we need to question the depiction of the elderly as helpless victims.

Photo by Eddy Klaus on Unsplash

Tweaking the existing systems

We need to come up with innovative solutions to combat elderly loneliness. For example, Age UK runs a unique Befriending Service that pairs older adults with a friend who visits them once or twice a week for a cup of tea, a recreational activity, or an outing. Alternatively, the local centres can arrange such friendly conversations over the phone or online. Of course, we will need to consider the fabric of Indian family systems and adapt the idea, but it is a good starting point nevertheless.

Another example of a successful social integration programme in the UK is the University of Third Age (U3A). It organizes learning and development courses specifically for older adults who want to pick up a new skill or simply share their knowledge with others. Technological advancement has made possible the creation of a nationwide network and discussion forums where they can exchange ideas about arts, crafts, gardening, literature, computers, or anything else of their interest. We could learn from these programmes and come up with initiatives that address the Indian context.

After all, this is stating the obvious: we need improved access to personal and psychological counselling services. Talking to trained therapists can provide a judgement-free environment and help us find ways of dealing with our emotional issues. 

Our solutions should embody the values of compassion, company and care to make room for everyone’s struggles. 

After all, we all deserve to live with dignity and assert our right to holistic care, irrespective of our age and other biological or social labels. 


Footnotes:

  1. https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/full/10.1377/hlthaff.2015.0314
  2. https://www.who.int/ageing/features/faq-ageism/
  3. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-of-older-adults
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2017/nov/08/us-vs-them-the-sinister-techniques-of-othering-and-how-to-avoid-them
  5. https://www.st-va.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5550624/#CR3
  6. https://academic.oup.com/gerontologist/article/58/2/226/2632116
  7. https://www.helpageindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/ELDER-ABUSE-IN-INDIA-2018-A-HelpAge-India-report.pdf

If you or someone you know is dealing with depression, suicidal ideation or similar symptoms, please reach out to iCall helpline at 022-25521111 (available 8 am – 10 pm, Monday to Saturday in India), The Samaritans. (116 123 Or email jo@samaritans.org.uk) in the UK.

Previous Post: