Friday, December 1, 2023

Hidden mental health cost of communal unrest in India


Communal unrest in India is not only destroying the social fabric but hammering the mental health of its citizens as well, which could have a far-stretched impact.

Our residential building has a garden with flowers of varied colours that paint a beautiful canvas to the eyes of the inhabitants. As members of society, we take pride in the garden & its maintenance. It gives peace to those that walk in it and frequent meditators that find their equanimity. For example, an ageing gentleman of about 60 years of age comes to pluck white flowers as a daily ritual for his prayers to God.

Members of the building have repeatedly requested him not to do so, yet his diligence to continue is unmoved. Some members have chosen to ignore him & some fought with him until an attractive newlywed couple recently moved to the building. On one such day, I saw the couple talking to the uncle on my morning walk. Interestingly, they were helping him pick flowers and pointed towards a full bloom purple flower that looked very attractive.

At this moment, it struck me that, all these years, most of the people in our building failed to see this uncle with compassion and understand his devotion. Blinded by our principles and beliefs, we fail to understand this need for him to be true to his rituals. Instead of supporting him, we kind of resisted taking note. Isn’t it that we do this all the time? We reject or don’t accept what does not fit into our belief and value system? We judge all the time and act accordingly.

The new couple who moved into our building allowed us to learn how not viewing cultural or value differences as a threat but instead celebrating these differences can bring more love and peace within us and around us. Most of the time, what seems to be unresolvable disputes arising out of less ability to commemorate variance and a higher feeling of being threatened by diversity do not allow us to accept people or things that are different from us in one way or another.

Every event that happens in our life, however insignificant, can impact our future. Our brain develops in the fourth prenatal week and continues into middle adulthood. Structural development depends upon biological inheritance and individual experiences. Even the slightest unrest can significantly change our mindset and behaviours, health, and life.

The brain only distinguishes individuals as “mother and not mother through our elementary years.” Through childhood and school experiences, the child sees equality and learns tolerance. We start to understand ourselves and digest differences in culture and ideology through the growing years. We grow to like those like us, and we feel threatened by those who are not like us. These mindset shifts translate into unproductive conflicts, and empathy slowly starts fading in communities, workgroups, and even countries. As we mature, our lack of mental fitness can lead to communal violence, and the initiation of communal unrest can cost our mental health. The impact can range from feelings of revenge, hatred, loss, and despair to long-term psychological distress and post-traumatic stress disorders.

These invisible forms of pain have remained hidden for a long time and are a reason behind physical complaints like palpitations, shortness of breath, and anxiety. Physical hurts and injuries are visible and can be covered up, yet psychological wounds and damages are not visible, can’t be covered, and take longer to heal.

Being emotionally aware and mentally fit allows individuals to accept their real feelings and resolve their anger and disappointment before projecting them on others mindlessly. It brings an ability to have productive conflict and build an emotionally safe world where communities can uphold their values and tradition and yet feel safe doing so without fear of being punished or marginalized.

Our Vision is to build an India that is the flag bearer of this world peace. That is the world we want to build at Mind Celebration for our children and our children’s children. Therefore, we recommend that we commit to preventively mental fitness. The direct impact of building mental wellness preventively is that we allow more chances for ourselves to coexist with diverse elements of culture and belief/value systems, and we also co-create the harmony that we long for.

Also Read: How organisations should deal with post-lockdown mental health issues

(Kanan Khatau is a doctor of medicine & a practising Psychologist. She is the Co-Founder of Mind Celebrations.)

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)


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