Mental Health and Work

1

On 25th February 2022, One Future Collective hosted a live session on ‘Mental Health and Work’; the session was moderated by Subhiksha, Program Officer at One Future Collective. Subhiksha was joined by Vandita, an aspiring mental health professional, and Anannya, the founder of Metta Foundation and a social worker. The discussion focused on how workplaces deal with employees’ mental health and mental health effects on individuals in their workspace. 

 

The discussion started with a discussion on why very few young Indians feel that a person with mental health issues should reach out to a qualified professional for help. Anannya pointed out how the privileged people in the Gen-Z age group can easily talk about mental health since social media has destigmatized the concept. However, the same privilege is not enjoyed by the young people from marginalized groups who lack access to technology and bear the brunt of stigma as the people in their immediate environment do not provide empathetic support. She mentioned that even though technology has become more service-oriented and efficient, a considerable barrier still hinders access. Vandita agreed that a conversation on mental health could not happen without acknowledging the privilege of who can talk about their mental health.

 

The second discussion looked at the new Budget, which promised to start a government scheme for providing quality mental health support. Vandita mentioned how even starting such a scheme in the Union budget was a positive step in the right direction. She also felt that this would increase public awareness and recognition, especially in older demographics. She also thought it was important for such a scheme to exist beyond the scope and duration of the pandemic. She pointed out how the same government had once spread leaflets promoting yoga and meditation to answer mental health issues, excluding many people who struggled to meet their daily needs. 

 

Next, Subhiksha raised how very few policies or articles explicitly address mental health and how to address such silence. Vandita suggested structural adjustments and required changes to integrate the issue of mental health into different policies, including educational or workplace policies. In a context where the mental health cost in India amounts to 3.5% of its GDP, Subhiksha raised a question of how smaller organizations could work towards making a workspace that is mindful of employees’ mental health issues. To this, Vandita pointed out the need for organizations to look after the mental health of the individuals for their holistic wellness rather than hoping that they would become more productive. She also pointed out the need for higher authorities or Human Resource departments to be sensitized, understanding, and safe towards employees. Anannya agreed on how mental health issues have become more pronounced during Covid-19 and how that shows the need for a robust and effective mental health system. She spoke about the need for creating psychologically safe spaces in both formal and informal workspaces. The conversation should include drivers, cooks, and domestic workers who work in households. Even though mental health days can be beneficial, it is still quite scary for a person to take advantage of them since it means the risk of exposure, further shame, and stigma. She emphasized how workspaces are generally not built for neurodivergent folks and how ‘sick days’ and ‘mental health days’ are essentially different for them. For Anannya, it then becomes essential to have neurodivergent people in leadership positions who would understand that mental health is a vast spectrum. 

 

The discussion then turned to how mental health issues can affect an individual’s workspace. Anannya shared her own experiences to show how neurodivergent was not just an experience but part of her identity and lifestyle and affected her workspace. Vandita questioned the entire concept of work-life balance and how most people feel afraid to bring up their mental health issues in the workspace out of fear of termination. To teach such a culture of sensitivity and awareness, Vandita pointed out the need for adding mental health to school and college curricula to create safer workspaces in the future. The discussion ended with talking about how more insurance policies should cover cognitive health-related costs.

Indigenous Climate Activist in India/South Asia

Indigenous Climate Activist in India / South Asia | Earth Day 2022

Feminist Justice and Trauma-Informed Support in Institutions

Feminist Justice and Trauma-Informed Support in Institutions

Human Rights and the Role of Civil Society

Human Rights and the Role of Civil Society

Shifting Away from a Single Narrative of Care

Hello!

Welcome to ‘Decolonizing our Practices: Conversing about Care’, a three-part blog post series. This series is a culminating conversation between Tangent MHI and One Future Collective as a part of our collaborative initiative, which was undertaken in October of 2021, to work towards decolonizing the perceptions and practices of mental health in India.

This is the third and final post of this series – ‘Shifting Away from a Single Narrative of Care’. Join us on this journey, and explore ideas around care as a process versus a product, care in communities and how one can try to shift away from normative performances of care. [Please note that for the purpose of readability, the speakers’ responses have been divided into paragraphs.

Each new response begins with their name (Ankita and Anvita), followed by their initials (A.B and A.W, respectively).]

Disclaimer: Before you go ahead, we would like you to remember that this conversation is informed by the personal and professional stances of the speakers, by their respective socio-political location, and by the resources, they have been able to access. We recognize that this is not the only way one can think about the ideas mentioned here. We would encourage you to bring your perspectives, share your thoughts, and any other resources in the comments below!

 

Ankita [A.B.]: (continuing from the earlier conversation)…This also brings into perspective how deeply ingrained into our system, the idea of care is and how the personal is always going to be political in one way or another, right? I wonder which systems benefit from the singular and magnified focus on individualised care? There are a couple of answers that come to mind. One would definitely be capitalism because we’re riding on the productivity high that we need every individual to be a productive part of society. And this is how capitalism ensures productivity – it markets these ideas, provides a space for care, of course with terms and conditions! I give you care and you get my work done.

A.B.: Another industry that, uh, benefits from this is the mental health industry to be very honest. As much as we’ve been realizing the importance of mental health and therapy, over the last two years, I also realize that therapy tends to be seen as one of the most, uh, legitimate forms of taking care of oneself. It also creates this clear power dynamic within the industry, and between the industry and the people who are seeking care. This was spoken about a number of times, both in our conversations with mental health practitioners and in our conversations with individuals who access mental health services. Thus, even when we talk about individualized care, or “self-care” as we call it more popularly, it also keeps the power with mental health professionals. And it might be very easy for even a mental health practitioner to miss out on the fact that, um, an individual evidently does not exist alone and in a vacuum, but this person exists as a part of a system and has multiple factors influencing them. 

A.B.: This brings me to the next question that I wanted for us to talk about. Over the last couple of months, we’ve been trying to learn as well as unlearn. What I want to ask you is that, if we were to unlearn and try to make a shift away from this individualized form of care, what can be some of the next steps? Or where do you think we can redirect our attention?

Anvita [A.W]: I absolutely agree with what you shared! An individualized approach to therapy ends up placing the onus of healing on the individual without taking their social reality into consideration. People can work on themselves as much as possible, but it’ll never truly make a difference if they continue living in a system that is against them. The notion of productivity that we spoke of earlier is also born from this individualized responsibility of taking care of ourselves. And what you said about the mental health industry, too, absolutely. When healthcare becomes more and more privatized, we accept it as a marketed transaction for a privileged few, instead of holding the state accountable for an inadequate public health infrastructure or working towards trying to improve it; to make it more accessible; to question these power dynamics.

A.W.: A conversation we’ve had a lot at OFC–especially while discussing the ongoing COVID Mental Health Project–is that oftentimes, um, service provision can be a reactive way to provide care. And, of course, during times of crisis and even otherwise, seeking such services can be so helpful. Seeking therapy has really helped me heal and grow. But we cannot stop our efforts there. What would it mean to have more universal and preventative forms of care where we create–co-create–cultures that are compassionate and just and equitable? So, instead of always responding to a mental health issue after it arises, we’re reducing its overall chances of occurring in the first place? And so much of this would involve unlearning ideas that we’ve believed all our lives. 

A.W.: I think it’s also important to acknowledge how deeply institutionalized these beliefs about care are, as you’d mentioned earlier. It’s like when we’re born, there are already certain norms about how our parents should take care of us and, ever since then, we grow up internalizing what we see–in our homes, our schools, our TVs, our media, public places, everywhere. So, we would need to restructure our institutions in a way that there’s more awareness about how the current ways of, you know, providing and seeking care are not always helpful for everyone–especially for people in the margins. We would need to go beyond just the field of mental health service provision and collaborate with other sectors. We would need to think about how we are forming educational curricula; how organizations are developing policies; how our laws are being made. And we can’t just gloss over structural inequalities when we consider all of these. We would need to consider how even our most personal ideas are actually shaped by these structures. And we would need to reflect on not just the structure of these institutions, but also the kind of culture we cultivate in them. 

A.W.: Also, our communities play such a key role here. I think, even during the pandemic, it was so lovely to see people making mutual aid efforts, amplifying SOS calls, and organizing sharing spaces to support each other; to stand in solidarity with their communities. During a time when people were experiencing collective grief and trauma, so much of the healing was happening in collectivities, too. I would love to hear your thoughts as well.

Ankita [A.B.]: I don’t think there are, like, a lot of different things for me to add. I agree that it’s of essence to start noticing, learning and practising cultural forms of care, which we haven’t previously seen as important because it hasn’t been portrayed to us as such. To also start respecting that “care” can shift its meaning for different individuals. For someone it can be sharing memes, for another, it can be reading a book and for the next person, it can be cooking for people they love. It doesn’t have to be glamorous. It doesn’t have to be visible. It doesn’t have to be–definitely does not have to be–expensive! 

Anvita [A.W]: Yeah!–A few days back, a team member of Tangent was telling me about this book on transformative justice that they’d recently read. And we went on to talk about holding space for feelings of guilt and shame. Even that can be such an important part of care. And the other day, in one of OFC’s meetings, someone said, “failure is a form of resistance to the capitalist system,” which was so moving. Accepting our failure can be a form of care and healing and liberation for a lot of us! Okay, you can go ahead. Sorry for interrupting you!

Ankita [A.B.]: No, absolutely! I think it’s a very, very important point. Failure is a manner of resistance. I think it’s important to remember that, because it’s easy for us to forget, so thank you for bringing that up. So we’ve just moved into the fag end of the conversation. How do we continue to keep this conversation going? What are some of your thoughts on that?

Anvita [A.W]: Would you like to take that up before I talk about it?

Ankita [A.B.]: Yeah, definitely! I also think about how much privilege we have to be able to even have this conversation. You know, there’s a privilege in that fact that we are here and having this conversation and we have access to things that are making it possible for people sitting in different parts of the country to be interacting with each other. If we want to keep continuing the conversation, it’s important for us to remember that we are going to fail and it’s fine. We’re going to stumble – that’s fine. We need to remember that different people might be at different levels of having this conversation. Our end goal might just be that we are trying to do away with a system that tells us that worth is based on productivity or on money or status indicators. I’m genuinely happy about how people are creating more resources based on lived experiences. And I think both Tangent MHI and OFC, have been trying to do our bit in sharing and curating resources. That is one thing I’m really glad about. Something that I would really love to see is for this conversation to keep on happening across intersections, across, language intersections, most importantly, and across intersections of like, all kinds of socio-political identities. So, I think that is what I had in mind. Yeah, I would love to hear what you think. 

Anvita [A.W]: Thank you, Ankita! I think you’ve covered everything that I had in mind. Also, I love what you ended with–about language intersections. And it may help to take this to different spheres of our lives, too. As in, not just having this conversation with those in the field of mental health, but also talking about it with our parents or our grandparents, you know, and understanding their experiences to explore these ideas across generations as well. I think we could continue having this conversation by holding it–formally or informally–within our micro-communities and in our social circles. It’s just a small start that would grow over time–is, is, is what I would hope.


Conclusion: 

Thank you for accompanying us on our dialogue around care! This is the concluding conversation of our blog post series. 

 

To access resources that have shaped our ideas of care, please find our resource list here. You can also find the summaries of our Sharing Circles 1, 2 and 3 with Mental Health Professionals here, here, and here, respectively; and that of the Participatory Workshop for Mental Health Users/Survivors here.

This blog also marks the concluding resource of our collaborative initiative, ‘Decolonizing our Practices’. We hope you found resonance in these spaces and that all of us continue to keep this conversation alive within and around us. Thank you!

About the Speakers

 

Anvita Walia is a student, researcher, and eternal learner. She is a Senior Program Officer at One Future Collective, a feminist social purpose organisation with a vision of a world built on social justice, led by communities of care. To know more about OFC’s work, please click here.  

 

Ankita is a listener, a mental health professional and one of the co-founders of Tangent Mental Health Initiative. Tangent MHI began in 2020 and works in the field of mental health service and advocacy. Their work is informed by the values of intersectional feminism, inclusion and accessibility. To know more about Tangent MHI’s work, you can click here.

Indigenous Climate Activist in India/South Asia

Indigenous Climate Activist in India / South Asia | Earth Day 2022

Feminist Justice and Trauma-Informed Support in Institutions

Feminist Justice and Trauma-Informed Support in Institutions

Human Rights and the Role of Civil Society

Human Rights and the Role of Civil Society

Culture, Conformity, and Care

Hello!

Welcome to ‘Decolonizing our Practices: Conversing about Care’, a three-part blog post series. This series is a culminating conversation between Tangent MHI and One Future Collective as a part of our collaborative initiative, which was undertaken in October of 2021, to work towards decolonizing the perceptions and practices of mental health in India.

This is the second post of this series – ‘Culture, Conformity, and Care’. Be a part of this conversation as our speakers ponder on the impact of culture and normative narratives on the practice of care. [Please note that for the purpose of readability, the speakers’ responses have been divided into paragraphs.

Each new response begins with their name (Ankita and Anvita), followed by their initials (A.B. and A.W., respectively).]

Disclaimer: Before you go ahead, we would like you to remember that this conversation is informed by the personal and professional stances of the speakers, by their respective socio-political location, and by the resources, they have been able to access. We recognize that this is not the only way one can think about the ideas mentioned here. We would encourage you to bring your perspectives, share your thoughts, and any other resources in the comments below!

 

Ankita [A.B.]: (continuing from the earlier conversation)…I think what you started talking about automatically moves into the next question: what are the factors that influence the idea of care? Since you already kind of moved the conversation in that direction, when you spoke about privilege and being able-bodied, do you want to go ahead and talk about what according to you are factors that play a role in the idea of care? 

 

Anvita [A.W]: Definitely. Thank you. I think–so many thoughts in my head–I don’t know which one to like, pick [laughs]. But when I think of the factors that influence our ideas…firstly, as I mentioned, just our social identities, right? Like, considering how care looks different for different social groups. And it also makes me think of how–how anyone who has a mental health issue–it’s not always a visible issue. We don’t always acknowledge or even realize that the person may need care. And of course, there are physical manifestations that come along with it, but they don’t necessarily show for every issue. So, that’s one thing: the invisibilized nature of a lot of mental health issues and the implications it can have for caregiving. 

 

A.W.: And again, the way that we provide care, too. People from certain social groups are required to provide care, whereas those from other groups just expect to receive it. Or when they do provide it, they’re expected to do so in a different way. And that’s also where paid, productive labour comes in, right? 

 

A.W.: This makes me think of the value we place in different forms of care. The effort and skills that go into forms of care that require empathy and nurturance and interpersonal sensitivity are relatively devalued, even today. But also, if a cis-het man were to provide care in this way, it’s likely to be celebrated because it’s so rare or, you know, to be condemned because it’s going against the norm. Either way, it’s spotlighted. Even in the field of mental health and social work, I haven’t come across a lot of cis-het men. I think that speaks for itself. The norms that define the nature and scope of care provision are gendered. Our culture really shapes how we perceive, provide, and receive care.

 

A.W.: And the idea of care has evolved over time as well. You know, I’ve observed that people from my parents’ generation usually talk more about communal kinds of care. But when people who are around my age talk about care–it’s a relatively individualized form of care. I’m not sure that this is necessarily related, but it’s something I find quite interesting. Would you like to talk about the factors that influence the idea of care as well?

 

Ankita [A.B.]: Certainly! When you pointed out that there’s a clear, albeit unwritten, distinction between the group receiving care and the one providing care, it struck a chord with me. Also, for example, let’s think about cis-het men and the kind of care-related expectations that patriarchy expects of them. Like they are going to be breadwinners,  the ‘logical’ and ‘emotionally stable’ support, ‘manly’, the list goes on and on. And I wonder what this means for male-identifying individuals who do not necessarily ascribe to this particular narrative? 

 

A.B.: When we are talking about care, we can’t not talk about patriarchy and the kind of messages that we’re taught to take as the word that was just meant to be followed. Like, a rule that you can’t break, and this is exactly what you do if you want to be rewarded. So it’s like, okay you silently ascribe to these rules and we give you the privilege to access, space, stability. The privilege to be visible and exist. That means a lot. 

 

A.B.: I’m probably repeating myself here, but I would once again like to highlight how ideas of productivity influence ideas of care. As you’ve mentioned, irrespective of the fact that you’re doing…I’m just taking up from what you were sharing about your own personal experience. I hope that’s okay for me to do? [Anvita] Yeah!

 

A.B.: Okay, thank you! Um, when you say that despite putting in hours of work, taking 10 minutes of break feels like “wasting time”, “being lazy”, etc. this tends to be a common experience for so many people right now. We’ve been made to understand that, if we’re taking time to take care of ourselves or focusing on our needs, the systems around us expect us to come back (as soon as possible, if I may add!) and be “productive again”. So a person can do whatever it takes to care for themselves, do yoga, take a break, go on leave, go on a holiday, et cetera, but they have to come back and “perform”. What is even more fascinating to me is how well this expectation is hidden under the garb of care, mental health, and well-being. 

 

A.B.: I wonder when we made the transition from seeing human beings as human beings, to seeing human beings as just pieces in a machinery that need to be there; need to be functioning well, need to be well-oiled so that the system can function. And I wonder what that means for, like, generations of individuals and their mental health. If I could take an example from my personal life, I’ve seen my mother consistently place her health and pain on a lower pedestal in the face of responsibility. And I can say with confidence that others have had similar experiences with people in their lives. I don’t understand why you need to be in pain; you need to play second fiddle to the role that you’re playing. When did we make the decision that the role is more important than the person fulfilling it? So yeah, I think that, is there anything else that comes to mind? Something that you just want to say, because you’re nodding your head, which feels good. So please go ahead.

Anvita [A.W]: I really resonated with what you said; it highlighted how we can’t think about this in a black-and-white way. Like, how even though cis-het men form the privileged gender group, there are still certain social norms that bind them. If a man would rather provide care in the sphere of his home for no income, what would that mean for him? Do most men even have that choice? These patriarchal ideas of care affect men, too; not just by defining how they’re allowed to provide care, but also by shaping how they seek care–or how they don’t a lot of times. 

A.W.: You’d mentioned that self-care is seen as a means to an end. I think the way we currently perceive it is close to the general perception of productive labour and individualized success, which is supposed to generate an outcome. But it’s not necessarily about the product–it’s a process in itself. And over the last few years, we’ve been making a commodity out of this process. Across social media platforms, caring for ourselves is being equated with going on a vacation or going to the spa or treating ourselves to a meal in an expensive restaurant. These are great forms of self-care, but when they are seen as the only form of taking care of ourselves, then that poses an issue. This isn’t to say that people should stop posting about it altogether, but it’s important to simultaneously acknowledge that these are very privileged forms of care. And, as we discussed earlier, it’s usually people from privileged groups who set the norm or the standard. We’ve come to adopt a one-size-fits-all perception of care without thinking about what care can actually look like for different people with varying, intersectional identities. 

A.W.: I also agree with what you said about pain in relation to this context. I think so much of this is related to the way we are socialized. There have been instances where I’ve even romanticized this pain. After a long day, if I’d be really exhausted, it would make me feel like, okay, I’ve been productive enough today. You know, I did something today, and now I have proof of it. And I think, for me, caring for myself has included the process of unlearning this idea. 

Ankita [A.B.]: There’s just a lot of resonance in this, there’s so much to speak about. Every time we have these conversations, I also think about how different this conversation would look, if we were to speak with, like, people from different intersections as well, which I think we’ve been trying to do through our collaboration over the last couple of months. Picking up from where you were, what you were talking about – over the last two years, we’ve seen a certain kind of taking care of oneself has been, uh, getting a lot of attention. And while there are individuals who do connect with and benefit from this kind of self-care, it is not something that every person has the luxury or the desire to engage with. Neither does it acknowledge what care can mean for another individual or for communities. So, uh, would you like to speak on that a little bit as to what are some of your thoughts on this respect?

Anvita [A.W]: Thank you, Ankita. I think the issue is that this kind of care is not always accessible to everyone. If we standardize this as the sole form of care, then care seems almost unattainable for some social groups. Which, it shouldn’t. Care is not a tangible commodity that we need to buy; it’s really about our lived experiences of a process. This particular brand of care is also presented in an attractive way, which may in part explain why it’s so desirable. Why is dressing up and going to a restaurant considered a form of treating yourself, but stuffing your face with comfort food at home–which has been a form of care and coping for me a lot of times–seen as something to hide? Does taking care of ourselves have to look attractive for it to be accepted? Why are certain forms of care celebrated when others are associated with shame? It puts a lot of pressure on everyone–including, at times, the people who subscribe to this brand of care–when the purpose of caring for ourselves is supposed to be just the opposite of that. 

A.W.: When we accept that this is what care looks like and this is all it looks like, it stops us from questioning, what else can it look like? All of us come from different places and carry different histories and have different preferences, so of course, care is going to be different for all of us. This one type of care that’s currently being popularized may work for some of us, and that’s great, but not everyone is able to access this; not everyone is able to afford it; it’s not available in every geographical location; and not everyone may even like it. So, it’s important to ask ourselves, what does care really mean for us and our communities? What helps us heal? What brings us hope? 

A.W.: And I want to emphasize the role of our communities, too. We can’t speak of care without addressing the history of community care. I once read that the term “self-care” was originally used in the 1950s and 60s to describe acts of preservation and autonomy for patients who were institutionalized in this very racist, sexist, paternalistic medical system. And since this was also when the American Civil Rights Movement was rising, it came to be used by activists to protest against a system that did not care about them; to protect their communities; and to practice radical self-care in the face of oppression. There’s this quote by Audre Lorde that I love so much. She writes, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Caring for ourselves can be a form of liberation–and collective liberation–from these scripts we’re socialized to learn about who we are and what we’re worth and how we’re supposed to live our lives. 

Ankita [A.B.]: Thank you so much for bringing that up! 

——————–

 

Thank you for accompanying us on Part 2 of our dialogue around care! This conversation continues in the next blog post. 

 

To access resources that have shaped our ideas of care, please find our resource list here. You can also find the summaries of our Sharing Circles 1, 2 and 3 with Mental Health Professionals here, here, and here, respectively; and that of the Participatory Workshop for Mental Health Users/Survivors here.

 

About the Speakers

 

Anvita Walia is a student, researcher, and eternal learner. She is a Senior Program Officer at One Future Collective, a feminist social purpose organisation with a vision of a world built on social justice, led by communities of care. To know more about OFC’s work, please click here

Ankita is a listener, a mental health professional and one of the co-founders of Tangent Mental Health Initiative. Tangent MHI began in 2020 and works in the field of mental health service and advocacy. Their work is informed by the values of intersectional feminism, inclusion and accessibility. To know more about Tangent MHI’s work, you can click here.

Indigenous Climate Activist in India/South Asia

Indigenous Climate Activist in India / South Asia | Earth Day 2022

Feminist Justice and Trauma-Informed Support in Institutions

Feminist Justice and Trauma-Informed Support in Institutions

Human Rights and the Role of Civil Society

Human Rights and the Role of Civil Society