Unveiling Mental Health Challenges in Nagaland

Mental health broadly includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It impacts and affects how we think, feel, and act, and this in turn, helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence into and out of adulthood. Throughout life, factors like socio-economic status, education, and specific conditions such as panic, phobias, anxiety, and substance dependence can contribute to mental health challenges. Despite outward appearances, unexpected situations like financial strain, relationship difficulties, family problems, or personal setbacks can trigger mental health issues. These conditions, rooted in brain function, reshape how we perceive, think, feel, and act. 

In the landscapes of Nagaland’s peaceful scenery, lies a silent yet profound battle against mental health issues. The harsh reality reveals that nearly 20,000 individuals experience severe mental health problems, while an estimated two lakh face the challenges of minor yet impactful mental health issues. Sadly, stigma and misunderstanding keep mental health problems hidden. 

Cultural Barriers and Misunderstandings in Nagaland's, Nagaland has a rich culture, but it makes dealing with mental health hard. Even though the consequences of mental illnesses are known, not everyone has access to information or awareness about it. In some tribal communities, there's confusion about mental illness. It's often misunderstood as being caused by evil spirits or curses, preventing people from seeking help from doctors or counselors. This misconception creates unnecessary suffering and prevents early treatment. While advancements in medicine have transformed treatments for physical illnesses, mental health still faces discrimination. 

The deeply entrenched cultural beliefs within Nagaland create a challenging backdrop for mental health advocacy. The stigma attached to mental health issues becomes a formidable obstacle, deterring individuals from acknowledging their struggles openly. Fear of being labeled as "possessed" by supernatural forces leads to the concealment of these issues, adding layers of complexity to seeking proper care and support. 

Despite the monumental advancements in medical science, mental health remains ensnared in societal discrimination. Those grappling with mental health issues not only confront their conditions but also face an uphill battle against societal prejudice. This discrimination makes it harder for them to access medical help and support, worsening their isolation and intensifying the hardships faced by individuals seeking assistance.

The pervasive discrimination seeps into various aspects of daily life, affecting employment opportunities, social relationships, and overall well-being. The fear of being judged or misunderstood forces many to suffer in silence. Within Nagaland's societal framework, misunderstandings about mental health perpetuate stigma. This stigma acts as a formidable barrier for individuals seeking help, instilling deep-seated feelings of shame and fear when discussing their mental health issues openly. The pervasive fear of judgment stifles their willingness to seek support, robbing them of the chance to access the care and support they so desperately require. 

Religious beliefs constitute a cornerstone of life in Nagaland. However, certain misinterpretations among religious leaders regarding mental health issues compound the challenges. Often attributed to spiritual possession or the workings of demonic forces, these misunderstandings further impede access to proper care. Such misconceptions exacerbate the struggles faced by individuals seeking help, leading to a profound sense of isolation and hopelessness. 

Efforts to bridge the gap between religious perceptions and mental health realities become crucial. Education and sensitization programs targeted at religious leaders and communities can help dispel myths and misconceptions, fostering an environment where seeking mental health support aligns with spiritual beliefs. 

The reluctance to openly address mental health concerns hampers the creation of robust support systems. Families and communities often lack the necessary tools to provide adequate assistance, contributing to the exacerbation of these issues. Ensuring equitable access to quality mental health care across all regions and social strata emerges as a pressing concern. Many areas in Nagaland suffer from inadequate resources, lacking a sufficient number of mental health professionals or facilities. This scarcity severely restricts access to necessary support systems. Government intervention becomes imperative, necessitating substantial investments in mental health infrastructure, comprehensive training for professionals, and the facilitation of services even in remote areas. 

Remote regions face an acute shortage of mental health resources, compounding the challenges for those seeking help. Geographical barriers and limited infrastructure create substantial hurdles in delivering mental health care to these underserved populations. 

Government involvement serves as a linchpin in effectively combating mental health stigma. Implementing policies and programs aimed at promoting mental health awareness and care requires a multi-faceted approach. This encompasses allocating substantial funds, launching comprehensive public awareness campaigns, and integrating mental health education into school curriculums. 

Comprehensive policies need to be formulated to address the multifaceted challenges hindering mental health care. This involves not only the provision of resources but also the implementation of long-term strategies aimed at destigmatising mental health issues. 

Collaboration among various sectors government bodies, healthcare professionals, community leaders, and NGOs is indispensable. A united effort can pave the way for a comprehensive strategy that addresses both the cultural and structural challenges surrounding mental health in Nagaland. 

Engagement at the community level becomes crucial to build a robust network of support. Educating and empowering communities to recognize, acknowledge, and support individuals facing mental health challenges forms the bedrock of a more inclusive and supportive environment. 

Consequently, mental health is a significant issue in Nagaland that needs more attention. Education, accessibility to services, and collaborative efforts are key to reducing stigma and supporting those in need. By creating a society where mental health is understood, accepted, and supported, Nagaland can pave the way for a healthier and more inclusive community.

The Degree of Thought Column is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. The column explored contemporary social, cultural, political, and educational issues and challenges around us. However, the views expressed here do not reflect the opinion of the institution. Tetso College is a NAAC-accredited, UCG-recognized Commerce and Arts college. Currently, the Degree of Thought Column is managed by the department of Mass Communication, and the editorial team are Dr Jenny Lalmuanpuii, KC Gabriela and Rinsit Sareo. For feedback or comments, please email:dot@tetsocollege.org.