New Delhi: “Mental health issues for people with special needs like me start from the day we are born,” says 32-year-old Vineet Saraiwala from Jamshedpur, who suffers from Retinitis Pigmentosa, a condition in which vision deteriorates as age progresses. Highlighting the many issues with disability and how it impacts the mental health of the person, Mr Saraiwala who is also a founder of Atypical Advantage said,
There is too much going around us. First, we take years to accept ourselves, secondly, the society around us is designed for people without disability, so at every point in life, we feel discriminated against, in one or the other way. We are bullied in schools, we are asked by family members, relatives and friends, why are we like this, the judgment that comes along with it, all of that takes a huge toll on the mental health.
Mr Saraiwala is not the lone sufferer. According to World Health Organisation (WHO), over 1 billion people are estimated to be disabled, this is about 15 per cent of the world’s population. Globally, an estimated 264 million people suffer from depression, one of the leading causes of disability, with many of these people also suffering from symptoms of anxiety, adds WHO.
Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) highlights that adults with disabilities experience more mental distress than those without disabilities. It states, in 2018, an estimated 17.4 million (32.9%) adults worldwide with disabilities experienced frequent mental distress.
CDC also mentions that during the COVID-19 pandemic, isolation, disconnect, disrupted routines, and diminished health services have greatly impacted the lives and mental well-being of people with disabilities. According to WHO, one of the well-recognised causes for mental health problems among all is unemployment.
Putting these statistics into context, Vineet Saraiwala who is partially blind further states that for him not being able to do his daily tasks as effectively as possible, not being able to see his family and friends, the food that is being served on the table and the beautiful world around him, is very depressing at times, but, he doesn’t let these things bother him much. He adds,
I have learned to count my blessings, instead of thinking about what I don’t have, I count my extras or the privileges, I have. I had access to good education, I was able to clear IIM Bengaluru, I was able to get a corporate world experience and so on. I used to think about people who don’t have opportunities like me. In India, 85 per cent of the disabled people don’t have permanent jobs, which also aggravates the mental health condition. Many corporate or job seekers think disabled people won’t be able to do the job or the work required, because of their disability and that’s why don’t hire them. To change this scenario, in 2020, I decided to quit my corporate job and launch a platform for people with special needs called Atypical, which highlights the portfolio of people around India with special needs, help them find jobs, interviews, mentor them and prepare them for cracking these jobs, so that they have access to equal opportunities.
Mr Saraiwala further spoke about what authorities, individuals, employers should keep in mind in bid to make India more inclusive, he said,
Infrastructure is a very big issue in our country. Imagine you not being able to go and visit your favourite place, movie halls, malls or restaurant just because you are a person with special needs. Not just infrastructure, our digital space is also not friendly for people with special needs. If I have to order veggies, or simply book a cab, I can’t as they are not made for people like us, people with special needs. I cannot access these apps without help. And that’s where we as a country are lacking. And all this takes a huge toll on a person’s well being and mental state. These are the little things that make a person dependent and no one likes to be one.
39-year-old Santosh Kakde from Maharashtra’s Jalna district, who is visually impaired adds,
I wanted to become a teacher, and that’s why I completed my B.Ed from Bhopal. But, I couldn’t land a job. I was jobless for six straight years. I completed my B.Ed in 2011 and till 2016, I couldn’t find a job. It wasn’t like there were no vacancies, but it was the circumstances. Visually impaired people need help or a person who can give exams for them, I would land up in competitive exams, but sometimes the person who is helping wasn’t good enough to complete the paper on time, sometimes, they didn’t know themselves to read or write and many a times, I didn’t even find help. As a result, I was left jobless. All this was mentally frustrating and many a times I felt like giving up.
Mr Kakde further explains that he couldn’t land a job for six straight years, and he had a family to take care of – a wife, who was also visually impaired, a son and a daughter. He said,
I was a B.Ed graduate, had the ability, had the will, but wasn’t given equal opportunities. So, I had no option, but to work for myself. I started selling document files and toys in the footwear bridges of the railway station. I did this work for 3-4 years. During all these years, one thing that stayed fixed was the mental health issues and the irony is that no one really talks about it.
Mr Kakde says he had suffered panic attacks, mental trauma and had many sleepless nights thinking about how he will be able to take care of his family and if he will ever be able to get a job. Today, Mr Kakde is working in TCS as an analyst. Explaining how he got this job, he said,
Since the very beginning, I was associated with many big NGOs for blind people, I use to send my resumes to them so that they can help me get a job. Through that I first landed a job in another NGO for blind people – Sight Savours, and then got chance to work for BarrierBreak Solution, where, I was working on creating solutions for people like me, people with special needs. I made apps and websites accessible for them. And then I came across Atypical Organisation that was helping people like me land up good opportunities in big companies, I sent my resume and in February this year, I got through TCS.
Talking about the challenges faced by people with special needs when it comes to finding a job and how it affects their mental health, Mr Kakde said,
People with special needs face a lot of problems. The biggest challenge is not that we have limited skills, even, if we say that we will not let the work get compromised, the issue is not many employers are ready to give us that opportunity. Secondly, another big issue is that we are dependent on other people for help, from applying for jobs to cracking competitive exams, we require a person, who will help us do it all. And to find that help is not an easy task. I was jobless for six years not because I didn’t have the skills and knowledge but I couldn’t find a perfect match or person, who will help me out. Third, our systems are not equipped with technologies or softwares that are disabled people friendly. And, lastly, the accessible environment is not everywhere. All this have an effect on the mental health of the person.
Highlighting how our society can be more inclusive, he further added,
Recruiters should train their employees to work with diverse people. Government should pay special focus on it, there are many government exams itself which are not friendly for people with special needs. Even If I have to update my Aadhar card, I can’t do it all by myself, because that has captcha settings, which will require a person to see the letters and fill in the blank. The speech to text option is not there. So to update even this simple thing, I need a person. These are some of the small things, we as a society should start looking at. I also think, government should encourage private companies to open up more jobs for people with special needs, there also is a need for management of companies to make their employees aware about people like us. I think, there is no awareness about people with special needs, their requirements and that’s why the inclusivity is missing.
Mr Kakre signed off with a message and said,
People should not differentiate. Equal opportunities should be provided. Infra, technology should be friendly with people with special needs and lastly the issue of Mental Health and how it is taking a toll on us too should be talked about. Right now the conversation is also not there.
Shagun Pathak from Varanasi, who is now working in Barclays and has the condition known as Neuromuscular Scoliosis that affects the spine of an individual because of which a person is unable to walk, shares her journey and said,
The disability I have is not something which I was born with, it was inherited after an accident, which happened when I was 7-year-old. I was a basketball player and the same year my accident happened, I was going to play district level. But life had some other plans. Initially, I never accepted my condition. I even had suicidal thoughts, as I just wasn’t able to cope up with the new lifestyle and accept the life as a person with special needs. But my parents because of them only I accepted this life and today I find myself to be lucky because of the things I am doing today, I wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise.
Shagun has only studied till 12th standard, she left Varanasi and came to Delhi NCR to live a life on her own terms. Her motto was to find a suitable job for herself and build a life. She started searching for jobs as early as 2010 but didn’t succeed until 2013, when she finally cleared an interview in Barclays. Explaining her struggles on not being able to find a suitable job and the impact it had on her, she said,
Most of the times, if I got a job, the environment wasn’t accessible or friendly for a person with special needs, so I had no option but to not accept it. And when the environment was accessible, I wasn’t accepted as I never got a chance to prove myself as the employer thought I won’t be a correct fit.
She further adds and said the list of challenges for a person with special needs are too many to be explained.
We experience struggle in every point of our life. We have challenges as simple and as basic as getting an auto walla for travelling to different destinations. They make us feel as if we have no right to travel without any help. Now imagine a toll it takes on our mental being, as these are the basic things. We cannot go to places as freely as other people as we have to look out for accessible environment, if the toilets are at the same floor and if they are friendly for people like us. This is not something a normal person would worry about, but we go through it on a daily basis. And obviously it impacts our mental health, which nobody talks about.
Shagun signs off with an appeal and said,
There should be acceptance in the society and that can only come when everyone understand our requirements. Authorities should focus on creating a much accessible environment and spaces for people with special needs.
About World Mental Health Day 2022
Every year, October 10 is marked as World Mental Health Day, which aims to provide an opportunity to re-kindle the efforts to protect and improve mental health of people across the world. This year, the day is being marked with the theme ‘Making Mental Health & Well-Being for All a Global Priority’.
Highlighting the importance of the day, World Health Organization states that many aspects of mental health have been challenged; and already before the pandemic in 2019 an estimated one in eight people globally were living with a mental disorder. It further adds that at the same time, the services, skills and funding available for mental health remain in short supply, and fall far below what is needed, especially in low and middle income countries.
In recent years, there has been increasing acknowledgement of the important role mental health plays in achieving global development goals, however, not much progress has been made, as still depression is one of the leading causes of disability, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. WHO further states that people with severe mental health conditions die prematurely – as much as two decades early – due to preventable physical conditions.
Moreover, people with mental health conditions often experience severe human rights violations, discrimination, and stigma. To change this grim situation and highlight the importance of mental health, October 10 is marked as World Mental Health Day across the world.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.