mental health problems

Exploring the realities of mental health in an unequal world

The wealthy have the privilege to worry about their mental health, while the underprivileged focus on making their ends meet. It is the same wealth disparity that the Oscar-winning Korean movie, Parasite dared to underline.

When four-time Grand Slam singles champion Naomi Osaka abruptly withdrew from the French Open for her mental health, the world applauded her. Simone Biles, the most decorated gymnast of all time, pulled back in the Tokyo Olympics for the same reason: to take care of her mental health. Stepping down from the world stage when the odds are stacked in your favour is no less than an act of courage. While such stories are important as they inspire others to think about their mental health, they also unmask a different side of our society that is dark and concerning.

Not many can take a sabbatical to fulfil their personal wellbeing needs. Most people are less likely to have the financial support that would give them the freedom to do so. They must prioritise paying bills, putting food on the table, and earning their paycheques more than their mental health. This is the unfortunate reality of the world today. Some have the privilege of tending to their mental health, while the others have to focus on making their ends meet. It is this challenge behind the underlying disparity that the Oscar-winning Korean movie Parasite dared to underline.

The link between poverty and mental health

In countries like India, home to 1.39 billion people, mental health is not only a taboo subject but also a luxury only a privileged few can afford. Around 22% of its population lives under the poverty line. That’s 270 million people, the combined population of the UK, France, Germany, and Spain. The marginalised live in extreme conditions. They have only one choice – survive today and pray for tomorrow.

“We evolved to expect egalitarianism. With inequality, the more fortunate feel superior and easily take advantage of situations over others because they feel more deserving. The less fortunate can be plagued with self-doubt, anger and resentment. A sense of oneness with others, a component of mental health, is undermined,” says Dr Darcia Narvaez, Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame.

The link between poverty and mental health is documented in several studies. A case-control study conducted in New Delhi from November 2011 to June 2012 found “that the intensity of multidimensional poverty increases for persons with severe mental illnesses (PSMI) compared to the rest of the population.” Poverty and mental health have a complex relationship. On one hand, the less fortunate can’t afford mental health support and services. On the other hand, mental health problems can nudge people into financial poverty on account of the challenges they face on a day to day basis.

Debt, education, and jobs

Ideally, there shouldn’t be a price tag on mental health services. It goes without saying that despite the social status and financial stability, everyone should have an equal opportunity to tend to their mental health. Unfortunate circumstances shouldn’t stand in the way. Overwhelming debt is another face of poverty that can further send things in a downward spiral. The aftermath of debt is underscored by crippled relationships, bankruptcy and low self-esteem. Low self-esteem and dejection lead to depression and anxiety, which are linked to increased suicide rates.

Poverty and debt are directly proportional to education, the lack of which makes it even tougher to navigate through mental health problems. According to a National Sample Survey Office’s report, around 32 million children aged up to 13 years don’t attend school in India. No education means no job, no social status, low wages, and higher rates of depression. As a result, there is no awareness around the importance of mental health.

The battle of the LGBTQIA+

Minorities such as LGBTQIA+ community are often at the receiving end of mental health problems on account of prejudice, hate crimes, emotional abuse, neglect and discrimination. “Every community should be supporting the uniqueness of each individual by meeting their basic needs and providing the evolved nest (e.g., a welcoming social climate, multiple stable responsive relationships, opportunities for self-actualisation). The focus of communities should be on promoting wellbeing and social connection rather than money-making,” says Dr Darcia.

In 2021, we can and need to do better. Socioeconomic and cultural barriers should not be standing between the people of this evolved century and their mental wellbeing. Equal opportunities, education, employment and equal rights need to be the foundation upon which we build a world, where mental health is neither a stigma nor a privilege. Here’s to a world where mental health is nothing less than health.




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