How can the conversation around mental health be framed in a more beneficial way for the individual and a more progressive way for the collective? Is a society that focuses on the treatment of mental health, rather than the cultivation of strength and resilience at the root cause, more prone to ill health? National Hindu Students’ Forum (NHSF UK) explores with Dr Devika Khanna, UK-based Consultant Psychiatrist in Medical Psychotherapy.
Defining terms and setting context is paramount, especially with a topic that is at the forefront of people’s mind and at the centre of widespread discussion today.
“Mental health is the ‘health of the mind’ and something which can be said, as physical health is, to be on a spectrum for every individual,” Dr Khanna explained.
“Stigmatising attitudes towards mental health can be damaging to society, but there are some strategic developments taking place today which are improving the terrain on which these conversations can be had.”
Meditation has many proven benefits, from sleep to the health of the heart. During a recent medical study across a range of US adults, it was also recorded that meditation helps to alleviate symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression. 76.2 per cent of participants used the ancient Indian practice for general wellness and 63.6 per cent reported that it helped a “great deal” with their mental health.
Despite the lack of extensive empirical research on meditation and mindfulness, Dr Khanna explained that it can be seen from MRI scans that meditation, quite literally, has the ability to change the shape of our brains.
Although scientific research may not be vast, the impact of a holistic approach to mental health has been documented in countries like Vietnam, from which the viral news story emerged of a young football team who were rescued from a cave mentally unscathed.
“This is a rare phenomenon. The boys had grown up in an environment which focused on compassion, not competition. They had managed to cultivate a sense of Karuna, or compassion for all, which meant that the otherwise disastrous situation was sensibly made safe with the guidance of the team’s former monk coach.”
There are many Indian epics and stories in our heritage on which we can lean for support and inspiration when developing our own mental health.
“Arjun, the great Pandava in the Mahabharata spoke openly about his mental struggles and was not considered any less heroic.”
It seems when we open the discussion in a transparent way and take the onus away from the effect, we can build more collective courage to prevent the cause. By focusing on strength and resilience, we can create a society with better mental strength.
by Kajol Desai