Mental health time bomb ticking in India. Let’s slow down.

By: Puja Bhattacharjee

Do you rush out of your apartment in the morning to catch that train or bus?

Do you stay back at work night after night trying to finish the day's work?

Is your fast-paced lifestyle affecting your sleep, moods, and routine?

Then maybe it is time for you to slow down.

Living in a fast-paced and stressful environment can put your body and mind under a lot of stress, says Sophie Harris, Cognitive Behavioural Therapist based in London. “This causes your nervous system to be dysregulated, leading to tension, anxiety, and difficulty slowing your mind down.”

 (All photos by: Yash Sachdev and Abhishek Verma)

When we are constantly focused on ‘achieving' and 'doing', it can stop us from creating moments of soothing and connection, she says. "We lose the ability to be compassionate towards ourselves, leading to anxiety and low mood."

We Indians are among the unhappiest people in the world, as reflected in the United Nations’ World Happiness Report for the year 2019 in which India appeared towards the bottom of the list – ranking 140 among the 156 countries that had been listed.

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India is heading for a mental health time bomb, warn experts. According to research published in The Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and best-known general medical journals, one in seven Indians were affected by mental disorders of varying severity in 2017. Another study by The Lancet found that depressive and anxiety disorders increased globally during 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To gauge how the pandemic has affected lifestyles and how people are coping with the new normal, a self-administered study was conducted by GOQii, a smart preventive healthcare company, in July 2020, among more than 10,000 users of its Health App spread across Tier 1, 2 and 3 cities in India. It found that 43 per cent of the respondents had depression and six per cent of Indians were severely depressed.

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When we try to do everything at a fast pace, it affects both our mental and physical health, says counsellor Hillary Sims, based in the UK. “If you're rushing to do things, quite often you will make mistakes. People use these mistakes to beat themselves up and quite often reinforce their core belief, that they are not good enough.” 

“People think doing lots of things simultaneously will mean that people will like them because of the things they do. In fact, people will like them for the person they are not, not the things they do,” the counsellor adds.


It is not just the adults that are affected. According to a report published by United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in October 2021, more than 13 per cent of adolescents between the ages 10-19, live with a diagnosed mental disorder as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO). Moreover, 45,800 adolescents die from suicide each year i.e., about one death every eleven minutes.

According to the London-based therapist Harris, slowing down benefits us by learning to regulate our nervous systems. “By slowing down, we can become more accustomed to understanding what we need in moments of stress.”

She suggests a few ways we can slow down and connect to the world around us.

  1. Activities such as yoga or meditation help us connect to our bodies. This can be extremely helpful for symptoms of anxiety that are often caused by a disconnection with our bodies. She points out that self-care activities are another way of connecting with our bodies. “Taking care of yourself can help increase feelings of connection and help regulate your nervous system.”
  2. Cooking food from scratch is a way to connect to our food. This can help us to appreciate the process of cooking, as well as eating the meal. This, in turn, leads to increased feelings of gratitude and well-being.
  3. Taking time to connect with loved ones is another way to slow down. Happy hormone serotonin is released when we are in a social situation that makes us feel connected and content.

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When we slow down and learn that it is okay to just do things at our own pace, we start to complete tasks properly, says counsellor Sims. We start to appreciate ourselves for the person we are, she adds. “Slowing down will allow you to self-validate rather than relying on other people to tell you, you have done a good job.” 

It will also allow you to prioritise yourself. It is okay to put yourself at the front of the queue and look after yourself in a self-care way, says the counsellor. 

“If you don't take care of yourself, who does?”