Mental Health and Work

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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.

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Feminist Justice and Trauma-Informed Support in Institutions

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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.

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Nishma Jethwa joins OFC as Program Director, Feminist Justice

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Nishma Jethwa has previously served on the Board of Advisors for One Future Collective. We’re thrilled to announce that she will now be joining the main team as Program Director for our Feminist Justice based projects. 

Nishma is a Mumbai-based gender rights activist and human rights lawyer. Her expertise in tackling of gender and race inequality stems from years of professional experience in the field of human rights law, including work at the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre and Aman Biradari. She was trained in law at Linklaters, a top UK-based law firm and holds a BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Warwick. She is a qualified lawyer in the Senior Courts of England and Wales.

For ten years, she was a co-founder at Strategic Advocacy for Human Rights, a non-profit seeking to break barriers to justice for survivors of gender-based violence. She also set up Shiva Foundation, a UK-based corporate foundation working to tackle modern slavery and the systemic exploitation of people. She is currently working to improve access to formal and community-based systems of justice in India in collaboration with grassroots lawyers, community activists and students. In addition to this, she also consults with a number of NGO leaders to develop their organisational sustainability, as well as advising businesses on their human rights commitments.

Indigenous Climate Activist in India/South Asia

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

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Feminist Justice and Trauma-Informed Support in Institutions

Human Rights and the Role of Civil Society

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