Challenging Uncertainty

Collective mental health has been severely affected now. What can we do to adapt to these challenges in such unprecedented times?


Dr Shekhar Seshadri addressing @NSoJTalks

Rishika Menon

“Hope is very important, social cohesion is very important”.

Dr Shekhar Seshadri from the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, NIMHANS. introduced us to the need for certainty in an insightful talk on adapting to mental health challenges during uncertain times. He elucidated how an unprecedented pandemic has brought about a strong feeling of uncertainty. Those who already had conditions like anxiety and OCD have a heightened need for unrealistic certainty and reassurance. To further explain this, he introduced us to concepts of philosophy and science by Socrates and Bertrand Russell to illustrate the difference.

“The value of philosophy is uncertainty and the value of science is certainty”

Following a conversation that enabled us to understand how vast and omnipresent uncertainty is, Dr Seshadri explained that “it is the intolerance of uncertainty in the COVID era that is a common factor”, that we all stand in front of while comprehending our emotional state and trying to find firm footing. He discussed how situations and characteristic traits are factors that contribute to triggering panic or anxiety and he brought forth the importance of understanding that stress takes different forms in different individuals. While pointing out that Covid-19 has compounded a sense of loss of important fragments of our daily life like predictability, routine and control among others, he brought in the importance of social cohesion.

“We have to call for a reset in sustaining and promoting social cohesion in policy”.

The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable sections of society, he explained, and he took us through five important factors that we, as a community need to keep in mind. They are - belonging, inclusion, participation, recognition and legitimacy. These factors, if remembered at all times, create a less harmful and more inclusive environment for the marginalized. The current situation has also made it difficult, he said, for those who used to cope well due to “multiple stressors generated by the pandemic” and the uncertainty about what the future holds. He also stated that all communities have embedded resources that need to be supported and this is what will take us forward.

“You, my young friends, are this strong local support and that’s my belief of you”.

Responding to questions from the participants, Dr Seshadri introduced us to topics like therapy, solidarity, empathy and social mobilization. He also encouraged us to participate in an activity to provoke us to think about these concepts. The most engaging section of our discussion was when he explained to us the importance of memory and anthroposophy while dealing with the lockdown and staying indoors. He insisted that despite coexisting with a virus, the most important thing to do is to live with hope and to stay in touch with the things that you love. Dr Seshadri sang a ghazal by Jagjit Singh to emphasize the importance of using simple things that matter to cope with mental distress, while also adding that in cases of severe mental health disorder, there is a need for medical intervention. He emphasized that we must encourage our creativity, maintain social contact and nurture our relationships. On a lighter note, he revealed to us that children, as compared to adults, are easier to approach and to bond with and that they are also born empaths.

“Children are natural-born philosophers because they have the gift of curiosity and wonder”

Dr Seshadri, in his presentation, not only spoke on one aspect of mental health but rather began with philosophy, stitched to it the importance of science, while bringing to light mental health and then moved onto methods that we can use not only for ourselves as individuals but also as a collective. As a student and as an individual that is part of the NSoJ community, it was an absolutely riveting conversation for all who were present.

Edited by Udbhavi Balakrishna (BA '22)

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