Surviving the pandemic has made us kinder, more mindful of mental health. Will it last?

Last week, Smriti Irani, India’s Minister for Women’s and Children’s Development in India, shared a post on social media, which read: “When I was a kid they didn’t take me home. a psychologist … My mother was able to open my chakra, stabilize my karma, and cleanse my aura with one slap. Following huge backlash for rejecting mental health and promoting violence against children, she retired.

Despicable as the message may be, it echoes how most Indian parents view mental health – or, perhaps, see –ed this. The global tragedy titled ‘Covid19’ that has been unfolding since 2020 may have simply changed the perceptions of people – and even parents of baby boomers – about mental health.

Siddhi, 25, notes that her parents have started to understand her need for space and no longer question her for locking her room. Charan, 20, has also witnessed a change in his parents’ attitude towards mental health during the pandemic. “My parents started to pay more attention to how I juggle school and work, and ask me to take a break and go for a walk every now and then,” she says. The experiences of Siddhi and Charan indicate a colossal shift in our perception of mental health in just a few short years, when many Indians could not even tell their parents they were in therapy without being judged or reprimanded.

This pandemic-inspired empathy has seeped into other relationships as well. “My friends now understand when I say I don’t want to go out – they don’t force me or insist that I do something I said no to. No one suddenly comes home; we always call first to ask if they are fit to meet, ”Siddhi notes, adding that even“ when making plans, we ask ourselves, ‘Are you comfortable doing this? ? And we really mean it.

Charan mentions having repaid the compassion she received. “Earlier [if a friend didn’t want to spend time with me], my reaction was to think that maybe they just don’t want to be friends with me anymore, or they don’t care enough about us, and so on. But now I find myself asking them questions about how they feel and whether they would prefer a one-on-one conversation rather than a party, ”she notes.

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Varsha, 29, also experienced greater respect for her emotional boundaries in her dating life. “If the person feels upset, or uncomfortable, or weak, we allow them to be upset [without] To do[ing] a fuss about it, or… prick them with questions like, “What’s going on?” “” She told The Swaddle last September. However, that doesn’t mean people care about each other less now; instead, it reflects a willingness to give others space. “We make an effort to make things lighter… by chatting about random and silly things or sending each other short videos. But earlier, we didn’t have the space at all to feel sad. There was this unsaid assumption that if the person is not feeling well, it becomes my duty and my responsibility to do them [better]”said Varsha.

Mark Sholars, a writer, believes that we are “in the midst of a radical change in … the way we treat each other”, even in capitalist workplaces. He points to the marked departure from things like “It’s not personal, it’s just business,” which revealed “the not-so-secret attitudes modern workplaces have had towards all that is emotional: keep your feelings at home and get the job done ”.

Now, as Samriti Makkar Midha, a Mumbai-based psychotherapist, notes, organizations have introduced measures like “a week off for mental health, no calls on Fridays or no meetings after certain hours” to take care for the emotional well-being of their employees. With one in three Indian professionals struggling with burnout during the pandemic, measures like those mentioned by Midha may be the need of the hour. In fact, recognizing this need, the Portuguese government has even passed a law stating that employers can now be penalized for contacting their employees after hours.

But how did the pandemic manage to do what all the kindness books of our formative years failed to do? The “mass trauma” we experienced in waves one and two – marked by a collective sense of grief, anxiety, sadness, alienation and isolation – helped us recognize and understand what people around us might be going through as well. Basically, surviving this almost apocalyptic world event together has caused us to resonate with the experiences of others without dismissing their struggles by saying, “You have a good job, you have a good family – what have you got to be mad at?” ? Midha explains. The pandemic has taught us that “people can feel depressed, without having a very specific reason for it,” she adds.

Additionally, the stigma surrounding mental health that is starting to dissipate has also made people feel less hesitant to seek therapy or even ask their employers, families and friends to adjust to their mental health. In a way, by setting and respecting boundaries, we have come closer.

” To treat [mental health] on par with physical disorders is a step we have yet to take as a society… But the conversations we have started to have [on mental health] already help me talk about my depression a lot more often now, ”says 18-year-old Olipriya.

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The question now is: is this a lasting change? Stephanie Preston, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, believes that it is unlikely that the empathy we have started to show “will dissipate completely as we move away from the intensity of the pandemic.” However, she believes that “the degree of compassion we have for one another can waver and vary,” as compassion fatigue sets in and memories of the traumatic event begin to fade.

But Midha believes that “the fact that these conversations have started now and people are picking them up” is a positive development and, perhaps, the conversations will continue to linger in the consciousness of society – at least, among the young. – for the coming years. She also adds that “every second or third person [wanting] pursuing mental health as a profession and becoming a psychologist, ”can also have a lasting change in the way we, as a society, care about mental health. At the very least, it may help to correct to some extent the dismal ratio of mental health professionals to people in India.

The pandemic has also made people more empathetic to themselves and improved the way they spend lonely time. “I find myself taking more breaks and researching things without putting a productive value on them – like creating art for the sake of art; or write poetry, but not necessarily to publish it [on social media]… Some things just for me and for my sanity, ”says Apoorva, 22. Even if we forget what the pandemic was like, perhaps the way we connect with ourselves will be able to withstand the tide of time – and, hopefully, will also be reflected in the way we deal with them. others.

So the solution is not only to hope that things stay the same, but also to learn the lessons of the pandemic and actively practice empathy. Perhaps offering more flexible working models – as companies have already started to do with hybrid options – can help make compassion last.

But ultimately, as Sholars wrote, “It’s hard to say whether the Covid19 crisis has made us more empathetic in the long run. But what is undeniable is that 2020 has revealed the importance and strength of empathy in our daily interactions.

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