Mental Health is a hot button topic currently. In a rapidly urbanising India, with infrastructures struggling to catch up, mental health and well-being emerge as one of the most important public health issues. As a traditionally collectivistic society, close-knit families and communities were a bastion of support in India. But in the last three decades, with more multinational companies and corporates turning their heads to tap into the vast consumer base in India, this structure has started loosening up. Compared to earlier generations, many more Indians today work far away from their home towns and no longer have access to their communities. Combined with all major stressors of the modern-day life, this paradigm shift has resulted in the emergence of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety a big part of the wellness landscape. Unfortunately, India is also steeped in prejudices and lack of a general understanding of mental health and its importance. Mental illness is often considered a moral weakness or attention seeking ploy in our everyday lives. Suicide is a known leading cause of death in young populations worldwide, and globally this data is skewed towards males. In India, however, the data and gender distribution are very different, and female suicides emerge as a huge concern. Interestingly, the largest demographic among suicides in India are housewives, who are a population that would not be suspect for this. Yet this is what the data reveals. On a more encouraging note, individuals, foundations and even big corporate brands have started taking a role in engaging public attention to this issue. As mental health in India keeps walking out of the shadows, we see very strong messages delivered through the enormous reach of social media and digital campaigns.
A touching and poignant video was released by the Live Laugh Life Foundation (TLLF), started by Deepika Padukone, who a passionate advocate of mental health awareness and outspoken about her own battles with depression. The campaign was named #dobarapoochho or “ask again”, and is built around the theme of family and friends asking repeatedly after the wellbeing of an individual, who first brush off the inquiry but with persistent questions, break down and reveal that they’re going through a phase of emotional difficulty. Deepika has shared previously on media that her mother’s persistent asking, if she was feeling aright, was what opened the emotional floodgates for her and look her depression in the eye and this might be what the campaign video took its cue from.
Star TV network, India released a similarly touching and simply worded campaign video on the occasion of the world mental health day (October 10) in 2018. Powerfully evocative, this video stresses the fact that depression can affect anyone, does a great job outlining several common retorts that people end up receiving from other people around them, shows that depression is not always apparent and that it is okay to seek help through ones’ communities as well as professionals.
MPower of the Aditya Birla Education Trust, a leading mental health initiative in India released a campaign of their own, titled #sunodekhokaho (Listen, see, speak), on the same occasion in 2018, where through the month of October they featured performance artists sharing their own experiences with mental illnesses, that built on debunking popular myths about mental illness, and the strength of peer and family support network in healing.
On the occasion of suicide prevention day Suicide Prevention Foundation India developed an interesting campaign that utilised the subtitling ability of YouTube and Facebook to deliver a strong message about suicidal ideation and how people miss signs, even among close friends. This campaign was titled #Givesubtitlestosuicide and deals with the sensitive topic of suicide in youth. A second campaign video, released by MPower minds also targeted the importance of communications and trust in the importance of helping anyone with suicidal thoughts.
Mirinda India launched a simple yet extremely relatable video of teenagers writing letters to their parents about the pressure to excel academically and otherwise, and the continuous push to outperform peers, and how it contributes to teenage anxiety, depression, and suicidality. Statistics show that every hour there is a suicide in India related to exam performance, and parental influencing is key stress. This award-winning campaign titled #releasethepressure has almost 24 million views on YouTube alone.
In terms of public engagement and outreach, probably the most innovative campaign termed Alzheimer’s Local was launched by McCann Health India for an elder care initiative called healthcare at home (HCAH) in Mumbai. To engage the public, they made use of the local trains of Mumbai, which serve as a primary mode of public transport to a whopping 8 million citizens, every day. In peak hour rush, amidst normal announcements about upcoming stations, there would be a few announcements where it would seem that the announcer has forgotten which the next station is. Later the passengers would hear a follow-up announcement that this was a social awareness message to remind the public that one of the most prominent early sign of Alzheimer’s disease is forgetting everyday things, and therefore to take routine forgetfulness seriously, not dismissing as a usual sign of aging.
All of the campaigns mentioned above date to 2017 or later. Brands taking on mental health awareness issues is somewhat of a recent phenomenon in India, but it is extremely urgent to keep pursuing this and use the outreach that big brands command to this end. According to UNICEF data, most mental illnesses begin in the teens and with awareness rates low as it is, Indian parents might miss prominent signs of mental illness that might manifest in to further serious problems. Even among adults, mental health should be brought under the auspices of any formal criteria of ascertaining well-being ASAP, and given equal importance that is given to cardiac or bone health.
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