A creative outlet for expression is now turning into a platform for many in India to spread awareness about the less talked about mental health
Slam poetry has initiated an uncomfortable conversation in the country, where only 20 pc of the total mental health conditions are treated professionally. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as an integral part of health which is more than the absence of mental illnesses. It refers to activities directly or indirectly related to the mental well-being, prevention of mental disorders, and treatment and rehabilitation of people affected by mental disorders.
According to the latest data gathered by WHO, India is currently experiencing a burden of mental health problems with 2443 DALYs (Disability-Adjusted Life Year, One DALY can be thought of as one lost year of ‘healthy’ life) per 100,000 people, and 21.1 as the age-adjusted suicide rate per 100,000 people. Besides the immeasurable social and human costs, mental health conditions also add up to economic losses. It is estimated that due to mental health conditions, between the years 2012-2030, India could experience economic loss of over 1 trillion USD.
India also suffers from a crippling lack of adequate number of care givers in the mental health sector. According to the WHO, per 100,000 people, there are only 0.3 psychiatrists, 0.12 nurses, 0.07 psychologists and 0.07 social workers.
WHO also believes that the best way to address the issue is by raising awareness of mental health and mobilising efforts in support of mental health.
Cultural aspect of mental illness
Ramanpreet Kaur, a PhD Scholar in Department of Psychology, Panjab University, explains the cultural aspect of mental health in Mental Illness in India. “Indian culture exerts a significant impact on people’s reaction to mental illnesses. We need to first address the stigma associated with mental illness. The social burden of this stigma, coupled with the disproportionate emotional, physical, mental and economic burden of the medical treatment, makes a deadly cocktail for the individual with mental illness and his/her family,” she says.
The taboo surrounding mental illness doesn’t allow the suffering individual to seek help from anyone. One way to reduce the stigma is by creating awareness, and, encouragingly, a handful of youth has taken it upon itself to spread awareness on mental health by talking about issues as personal as depression, relationship and suicide publicly, through spoken words.
Shivani Lalan, the head of the Open Sky believes that spoken word poetry offers an outlet and a creative space for everyone. The platform is equally safe and welcoming for everyone. On creating awareness through slam poetry, Shivani says, “Mental health in India is a topic fraught with too many loopholes. There are people willing to listen, but not many platforms for people to talk. Poetry opens up space for people to find solidarity in an empathetic audience. We’re far away from breaking the taboo, but we at least have a safe starting point.”
Tanya, a budding spoken word artist, says, “The society needs to understand that mental illness is not a matter of shame. It is as same as physical illness.”
Poetry as therapy
Poetry allows people to talk about things that are considered to be a stigma in the society. Poetry as a therapy involves using poetry and voice to help people experience freedom from the emotions that they have been bottling up for long.
Shivani further adds that writing is definitely one of the most personal and the most relaxing way of releasing your pent-up energy. “I do get a lot of love from the Open Sky family for facilitating a safe space where there are no judgements, no limitations, no competition or corporate atmosphere. The sheer home-like feel of Open Sky allows more and more people to open up about so many issues in their lives that they’re dealing with or have dealt with. We’ve had people come out of the closet, and also struggling to come to terms with their mental illnesses on stage. We’ve had people embrace other survivors, others with the same problems.”