Speaker: Dr. Aruna Broota - Senior Clinical Psychologist
Retired professor of psychology, University of Delhi
Facilitator: Madira Popat, Digital Enterpreneur
Compiled by: Sudhanshu Shekhar
Date: 12th May 2020
Dr Aruna Broota was first asked about the possibility and thought of happiness in the current scenario, where we face a pandemic of unprecedented scale and size, in which ⅓ of the world is on complete lockdown. People and their loved ones suffer and their fears are amplified when they browse through the news or social media, making them more anxious. Highlighting it as an important question, she shared that we, in contemporary times, have become very materialistic. However, it doesn’t make us happy and what I find is that people, of all age groups, are running, without having any idea where it would lead them. If I could take you to the pre-lockdown phase, you would find people are running to their offices, youngsters are running to their colleges and classes, children are running to school and after your day is over, you are running to come back home, running to catch up with the world over the mobile phones. So, the constant running makes me wonder where you all are running, what is that you want?! Some would say that Oh, I wish my son could earn more, or I could have this house or that gadget. Here, I am not saying that one should not bring different utilities and latest gizmos into their houses and lives, but we should first bring contentment into their lives. When there is no contentment, then how would we be happy? In current times, our entire focus is on physical comforts and we don’t even talk about mental comfort.
The COVID crisis has evaporated whatever happiness was left among us. As you must have read in primary school that humans are social animals and I will give an example here. We used to have summer vacations in school for about a couple of months and for the first few weeks, we loved it. However, in time we would go and ask our mothers that when is our school reopening. You see, nobody likes a forced rest for too long. This is because we have some basic psychological needs, like we need rest, safety and security, but not restrictions. Nobody should tell us that we need a leave, I myself would ask for it if I need it. So, self independence is also a crucial mental need, that I must be able to live the way I want to. When you see these scenes on the television today of labourers and workers and their desire to return home, travelling on trucks, on bus carriers and even on foot, it reminds of the time of Partition where millions had to travel to the country of their choice, this distress is similar to that. We see these people having to fight hunger, having to walk home and having to travel for the lack of money, still we don’t appreciate our ability to endure this crisis from inside our houses. You still would want and need to sneak out, which just shows that you do not love yourself. You love your gadgets and gizmos, your mobile phones and I-pads, but not yourself, which I believe is just not right.
Mandira further asked her about the compulsive need to know more, that one has in this crisis but information they get through social media or news channels are largely negative, so what impacts it has on the mental health and wellbeing and what she would suggest they can do about it? Answering this Dr Broota first congratulated the facilitator for thinking about Mental Health. She then went on to say that most people don’t consider mental health and only think about physical health. For example, If I tell you my entire body is aching, I have a fever and I feel sick, you may advise me to go see a doctor. You would not do a diagnosis and suggest I have cancer. Similarly, if I tell you My heart is sad, I am unable to apply myself in any task and I miss someone, you may turn around and suggest I have lost it, or I am going mad. So we see in case of physical health we are more sensitive in our advice, but that is not the case for mental health.
A common person doesn’t even think out mental ailments and mental health. This is because it’s not tangible, and one cannot see it, hence discussing it scares us, even those who are educated. So, as you said that there’s a lot of negativity around us, in order to deal with it and get to a stage where we are happy, we need to first be content. In order to be content we need a passion inside us. What this means is having a task or activity which you enjoy and want to engage in. So I think if you are positive and have a passion or interest in anything which you can engage in easily, like cooking, gardening, graphic designing or anything, then it will lead you to well being and you yourself would be able to create positivity around you. The contentment of creating something, of fulfilling our passions, leads us to both physical and mental well-being. There are other other ways also to deal with the negativity around you, if you talk about physical activities. If you do cardio-vascular acceleration workouts and the blood circulation in your brain is good, you will feel a reduction in negativity. This is what we call the body-mind relationship. If you do stationary jogging, or jumping jacks or rope skipping you look and feel fresh. So physical activities mixed with a positive attitude, which we achieve by following our passions, will indeed help improve our mental health even in the current situation.
Dr Broota then shared some ideas as to how educators and teachers could ensure the mental well-being of adolescents who are locked in their homes. In a detailed response, she said that a teacher has to cater to a class, and in a class there is a normal distribution of interests, aptitude and IQs. Each child comes from a different background, and a teacher needs to understand that. So they need to give a lot of positive reinforcement to the children. At times, the teachers would complain that there are sixty children in their class, how can I possibly look after all of them. To them I always say that you don’t have sixty children to look after. The children who rank from 1-15, they are already motivated and need very little attention, the middle 30 need to be pushed from time to time and little motivation helps them achieve better. So it’s really the bottom 10 students that need regular attention. The teacher must try and understand these students and their social and familial environments.
They need to be worked and diagnosed if needed, whether they have issues at home, with parents, is he insecure? Does he have an attention deficiency? Or precocious puberty? Is he in a very severe inferiority complex and compensates it by delinquency? You have to find all that out, and that is not the task of the teacher, but the teacher must refer the child to the school’s counselor when they observe such issues, so that they can be diagnosed, tested and treated. That is why I believe that there is a need for 10 counselors each for nursery, middle and secondary students, as their needs are different and pressing. To my teachers, I would say that the love that many children do not get at homes, they must give them that in the form of appreciation and they must use the counselors, it will help them in a very big way. The G-factor or the general ability factor and the S-factor or the special ability factor, would be different across children. So, I think a teacher should be very forgiving, very understanding , very patient and they can outsource the child’s evaluation.
We must realise that mind and body and mind are always in sync and hence there is the need for resources to tackle mental issues. I read it in one of the physiatry textbooks that ‘if the eyes don’t weep, the intestines bleed’ this is the relationship between the body and mind. The next two R’s are regulate and relate, by which I mean learning to associate with people, groups and activities that most definitely would lead us to our passions, to our inner self.