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Women In India Are Highly Disadvantaged, When It Comes To Mental Health Issues: Dr Neerja Birla

In conversation with Dr. Neerja Birla, Founder and Chairperson at MPower, Aditya Birla Education Trust Initiative about Mental Health issues and where does our country stand in terms acceptance

New Delhi: Mental health in India is still a subject riddled with a lot of stigma and taboos. In order to strike conversations around the topic and make mental health issues the talking point in the community, Dr Neerja Birla founded MPower as an ambitious dream to promote mental health and well-being in the most holistic manner conceivable. MPower helps create awareness, foster education and alleviate the stigma around mental health and helps empower individuals and their families from all walks of life. To know more about the topic, and India’s status when it comes to Mental Health, team Banega Swasth India speaks with Dr. Neerja Birla. Here’s what we discussed:

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NDTV: Tell us where does India stand when it comes to Mental Health and where exactly is our country in terms of acceptance?

Dr Neerja Birla: Generally, mental health is highly stigmatised; it is still a taboo topic. People don’t want to talk about it and think of the disease as a personal failure. When we started seven years ago, just to get people to say ‘Mental Illness’ was kind of a big deal. But, the good news is that from then till now, we have moved a lot. We have been able to move the needle, I am humbly proud that we have been able to bring a paradigm shift around this topic of concern. The fact that we are talking about it is a big deal in itself. We are seeing a lot of changes happening, but it is a long journey and it will take time.

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NDTV: When it comes to Mental Health, do you think, women are more at disadvantage?

Dr Neerja Birla: Yes, generally women are more prone to mental health problems whether it is depression or anxiety. A lot of this is associated with the way women are made physiologically. Our disadvantage is that our society is very patriarchal and that comes with its own set of challenges on a regular and daily basis, whether it is at home or at work – there is always a lot of pressure for women to prove themselves. In their marriage, there is pressure to be the perfect wife and daughter-in-law. At work, there is pressure of coping with all the changes and proving again that they are rightly fit for their respective jobs. We, as women, are always juggling roles and there is always a lot of guilt. As compared to the spouse, women are always expected to be more giving and sacrificing. There is an expectation that if there is any change and adjustment required then it will be done by the women themselves. And not to forget, there is a lot of non-verbal pressure as well and all of that leads to unwanted pressure and stress.

NDTV: What are your views on Postpartum Depression in women and how they should deal with it?

Dr Neerja Birla: Postpartum Depression is for real; when my daughter was born, it happened to me as well. I was taken aback by total surprise, I didn’t even know something like this existed. Had I known it beforehand, I would have been able to deal with it better. Women are forced to be happy all the time, especially during childbirth, as they have just given birth. But due to postpartum depression, women don’t feel happy, instead, they want to cry all the time and there is a feeling of not doing anything. I just want to tell every woman out there – it is okay to be sad. They should take their own time in all this, they need to be patient and remind themselves that it will pass.

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NDTV: How important is it for India to empower women in the country?

Dr Neerja Birla: Women empowerment is very important. Without empowerment, we cannot move forward. I also think only women understand what other women go through. 85% of our population is women. If one woman is empowered, we will end up inspiring and empowering many more and that’s the only way we can grow.

NDTV: What are your views on Public Private Partnership Model – is that the way to go?

Dr Neerja Birla: Government needs to increase its spending on mental health. Public Private Partnership is very important and that is the way to move forward. We are working with different governments and collaborating so that we are able to reach more and more people and help India beat the mental health crisis. Collaboration with the government is the best way to go as they already have a fantastic network, so if we combine the network with the partnership of people working on the ground, we will be able to provide better and advanced services, thereby creating a healthy India.

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NDTV: What’s your message for women out there?

Dr Neerja Birla: As women, we often feel inadequate. We really need to own up to ourselves, and feel adequate. We don’t need validation from men about everything. I think that is the way forward.

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 populationindigenous 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 (WaterSanitation 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 pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual 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.

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