Editor’s Note: This month, that is January 2021, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Work and The Workplace, where we invite various articles to highlight the profound changes that our workplaces may or may not have undergone and the effect that these changes have had on our personal and professional lives and ways of living in the time of the pandemic. If you’d like to share your article, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mental health has a history of being overlooked in India. We are taught to work under pressure, and under several deadlines. Our country also has a history of glorifying overwork and continues to do so. The more work you do the better your curriculum vitae is. We are inherently taught to paint, dance, act, play an instrument and do exceedingly well in our exams. I too am a victim of this culture. The culture which teaches you to work so hard that you and your mental health become less of a priority. This toxic hustle-culture leaves no individual alone.
“Everyone is doing everything and liking mostly nothing,” says Ishani, a student of class eleven.
Most of us are victims of this same culture and have ended up overworking themselves to fit in this bigger picture of success in which our lives consist of nothing but our work. This overworking leads to a cycle of distress which in turn pushes us to a state of complete exhaustion. Society makes it extremely difficult to give importance to our mental health and taking care of it seems like a privilege to most of us.
Mental health seems to be the last reason to take a leave or a break and in this sphere, online school is no different. Online school is twice as much work and tends to give fewer breaks because we are studying and attending classes from the assumed ‘comfort’ of our home. Acknowledging the mental health of the students is a rare practice in this setting, and even if attention is given, there is no sustained effort to change the situation.
The pandemic worsened our mental health and school and work seemed to only further this worsened situation.
“There is no ‘learning’ in online learning. Though it has been possible for us to connect to our institutions because of the various platforms, but it has to be understood that we aren’t robots. Mental health has deteriorated by a huge margin to keep up with the workload. In other words, stop troubling us. We have other things to look into apart from your assignments and exams which we copy paste from Google,” said Akanksha Samtani, a student social activist and public speaker.
Online schools have a lot more assignments and there is very little fun in doing them. Online school has snatched away the bonds we had with our classmates in our classrooms. It has successfully made school and studying seem like an isolated and lonely task. There are no giggles in the corridor or any tiffin to share. It has made school an empty hard screen with a lot of work.
“Well, it is honestly just exhausting. Back to back classes and sitting in front of computers. On top of that, school has increased the amount of work, which is draining. School thinks we shoud not have any time for ourselves,” said Sharanyo Paul of class twelve.
This isolation has induced several depressive or anxious tendencies among the children too. Anhedonia and associative tendencies have increased in the students.
“I definitely have insomnia. I stay up all night working on my page,” said Shiropa Ghosh, a makeup artist and student. Insomnia and lack of appetite too are very common among my peers. They have gotten more socially isolated and the stress has affected their personality, behaviour and health domain and made them very irritable, which has even led to an increased probability of getting a mood disorder.
“Online education has increased my screen time by a lot. And, for someone who has mental health issues, it is not a very good thing. The initial excitement for online education soon faded away, when it became difficult to manage the household chores, school, projects and tuitions. It has lead to an increase in the number of bad days I have, since the stress it too much to handle at times,” said Priyanshi Bansal, a student of class twelve who runs a mental health page and is a social activist.
More children now have depressive and anxious tendencies and more of them have given in to unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance abuse. Stressful life events like the closing of schools, and consequent bleak probabilities of them opening have impacted them tremendously. School counselling seems to not be an option for most of them because a lot of schools lack counsellors. Work outside school too is draining. Most of the organisations which I worked with had no mental health leaves. My current internship does, but the last one didn’t. Mental health leaves seem to be non-existent in most workplaces and even is actively discouraged.
I am a person diagnosed with a major depressive disorder and on my worst days, I would lie and say I am ‘too sick’ to work instead of outrightly saying I am depressed because clinical depression is looked as an excuse for missing work more than an actual illness, especially by people who lack sensitivity, don’t understand the gravity of mental illness and hence, shrug it off rather easily.
The tendency to think a person is ‘soft’ when they take a mental health leave is pretty common too. It is not uncommon to see individuals disregard your mental illness by saying I have it too but I still work. It isn’t uncommon to hear co-workers say, “Everything is working out for her but why is she still down.”
Dysthymia, Cyclothymia or other ‘high functioning’ mental illnesses too are overlooked and shrunken because of the invalidation of them. Several individuals can continue working with high functioning mental illnesses and the perception that it’s not an illness unless it disrupts your day to day activities is also common. Workplaces and schools don’t understand that your mental illness makes you dysfunctional and that it’s excruciatingly hard at times to function on your worst days. The issue of mental health leaves and sensitivity around mental health issues truly need to be addressed, especially in workplaces and educational institutions.
Olipriya Roy goes by she/her and they/them pronouns. She studies in class twelve and is a demi gendered individual. She is a public speaker and a social, gender and mental health activist. She has been a part of Openhouse community and has served as a Mun tribe leader.They had been speaking on menstruation since very long and was an intern at youth ki awaaz and is currently an intern at bleed eco. They was featured in The Quint and in The Greater India. She likes to cook and spend time writing poetry. She lives in Kolkata and is a seventeen-year-old cat-loving instant noodle lover. Olipriya’s alter ego is Esther Greenword from Sylvia Plath’s BellJar because she too ‘wants to be everything’. You can find her on Instagram.