Given the many studies pointing to a correlation between screen usage and depression and anxiety, his parents worry about him.
Meet Arnav, a 35-year-old consultant in Delhi who constantly juggles board meetings, client demands, and family responsibilities. One morning, during his office commute, a slight exchange of glares with another commuter in the chaotic traffic transforms into a road rage incident with both yelling and exchanging blows. The passerby passes judgment and blames the two for being impatient, aggressive, and losing control.
Then there is Sakshi, a 19-year-old young adult. Her heartache following a breakup sends ripples through her life. Struggling to come to terms with the abrupt end of a loving relationship, she turns to cigarettes and alcohol to numb the pain. She misses school and her dance classes and distances herself from friends. Her friends blame her for “bad” choices and wonder why she can just not pick herself up.
In the digital age, we encounter Dhruv, a 12-year-old who is inseparable from his screens. Given the many studies pointing to a correlation between screen usage and depression and anxiety, his parents worry about him. They blame him for his lack of self-control and addiction to screens. This leads to daily arguments and an unpeaceful environment at home.
As we read the stories of Arnav, Sakshi and Dhruv, the question of blame appears. Are they solely to be blamed for their behavior, or is it a collective responsibility. It is true that individual choices play a role – but social factors also significantly affect an individual’s mental health. For Arnav, the environment in which he functions plays an important role-long commutes, poor road and parking infrastructure, and chaotic traffic also contribute to his stress and frustration. These external stressors in a fast-paced lifestyle can escalate into emotional and physical outbursts. The absence of mental health education in schools, in addition to the stigma and taboo around mental health, leaves young minds unequipped to navigate their emotional landscapes. Sakshi’s story shows us the consequences of this gap, as her resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms comes from a lack of awareness and availability of healthier alternatives like communicating with a trusted one or creative expression. Similarly, in Dhruv’s case, the ever-enticing algorithms of addictive digital platforms and lack of outdoor play areas worsen his screen addiction. The lack of regulation and tools to manage his screen time keeps him glued to the screen.
These stories are not rare occurrences. According to the World Health Organisation, one in every eight people lives with a mental disorder. Estimates suggest that over 20 crore Indians suffer from mental disorders. The contribution of mental disorders to total DALYs in India doubled from 1990 to 2017 and is expected to increase further. Research highlights that these conditions are caused by a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, social, economic, and neurological factors.
In hindsight it would be incorrect to blame an individual for their poor mental health. We must view this as a collective and system responsibility. There are tangible examples of collective responsibility that show how we can create societal engagement in shaping mental well-being. In education, Finnish schools and daycares take a proactive stance with their “Let’s Talk about Children” program. It encourages parents and children to improve their bonds and communication. By teaching students about healthy coping mechanisms during stressful situations like break-ups and loss it empowers them with the emotional tools to navigate challenging experiences. The program has shown positive results in the betterment of children’s mental health.
Looking beyond the classroom, South Korea passed the ‘Cinderella Law’ to stop children under 16 from playing video games between midnight and 6 A.M. The law was grounded in recognizing the potential adverse effects of prolonged gaming sessions, including disrupted sleep patterns, decreased physical activity, and compromised academic performance. The law’s introduction reflects a societal acknowledgement of the effects of digital interactions on mental health, pushing us to consider how regulations can create favorable situations for improving mental well-being.
In light of the narratives and insights unveiled, we see that the intricacies of mental health challenges cannot be assigned to a solitary source of blame. That would be oversimplifying the issue.
Similarly, initiatives in New Zealand show us how mental wellness can be achieved through strategic policies. Their focus lies on reducing substance abuse and dependence to increase mental health. Notably, the nation’s endeavor to be smoke-free by 2025 involves restricting sales to the younger generation so that the children in these communities never start smoking, thus creating a new generation of non-smokers. They provide de-addiction support for smokers, sell only low-tobacco products to decrease tobacco dependence and make cigarettes difficult to buy by restricting the number of shops allowed to sell them. These policies are a testament to a comprehensive commitment that extends beyond physical health, recognizing the link between addictive substances and mental well-being.
India, too, has started to take steps towards nurturing the well-being of its youth. An example is the implementation of the Happiness Course by the Delhi government in 2018, aimed at fostering happiness and holistic development among students. Students are taught skills like meditation, yoga, self-compassion and social connections to understand how to create and maintain good mental health.
As we contemplate these examples, thought-provoking questions arise from the stories of Arnav, Dhruv, and Sakshi. Could interventions like the Finnish “Let’s Talk about Children” program have provided Sakshi with healthier coping mechanisms for her heartbreak or helped Arnav learn how to manage anger at an early age? To what extent did the absence of comprehensive screen usage guidelines and tools lead to Dhruv’s struggle with screen addiction? Could support tools, regulations, and guidelines have helped him regulate his behavior?
In light of the narratives and insights unveiled, we see that the intricacies of mental health challenges cannot be assigned to a solitary source of blame. That would be oversimplifying the issue. It is not a question of assigning fault but recognizing that a multifaceted approach is essential. Individuals can play their part through actions like meditation, self-control, accessing professional help and using mindfulness techniques. In addition, we must focus on a collective understanding—one that acknowledges the interplay of genetics, environment, social, economic, health systems, and personal choices. As we navigate the complex chords of mental health, we need collective responsibility that goes beyond individual blame and involves all stakeholders to cherish, uphold and nurture mental well-being.
“Composed by: Ashish Sachdeva serves as the Research Director and Adj. Assistant Professor at the Max Institute of Healthcare Management (MIHM) at the Indian School of Business (ISB). His research focus is healthcare, specifically healthcare delivery systems and behavioral sciences in health. “
“Kaira is an MSc candidate at the London School of Economics specializing in Health Economics. Her areas of interest are women’s health, financing healthcare, mental health, and global access to medicines. “