Modern Indian Studies Webinar Discusses Mental Health Through the Lens of the Pandemic
Fall campus scene on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Photo by Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)
The Modern Indian Studies initiative at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill hosted a webinar, “Mental Health: The Hidden Epidemic,” in October, as part of its ongoing series, Resilience and Well-Being Through the Lens of the Pandemic. The series is designed to examine the impact of India’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and address related issues in economics, medicine, urbanization and public health.
Moderated by UNC-Chapel Hill faculty members, the series features internationally renowned experts analyzing research and discussing challenges and opportunities in India and communities around the world. In this webinar, the third in the series, panelists discussed India’s efforts to improve access to mental health care in conjunction with the difficulties and disruptions communities are facing due to the pandemic.
Cristen Page, executive dean at the UNC School of Medicine, gave opening remarks before the panel discussion.
“The virus itself has made it clear how closely connected we all are,” Page said. “As the pandemic continues around the world, it’s important that we support each other’s mental well-being, as much as each other’s physical health.”
Vikram Patel, Pershing Square Professor of Global Health and Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow at Harvard Medical School, spoke about how the pandemic has presented challenges that are not equally distributed across Indian society. Patel said a large number of India’s population went hungry during the lockdown.
“It’s brought into sharp relief the fragmented nature of Indian society,” Patel said. “Fragmented, polarized society is one that is not good for anyone’s mental health, whether you’re wealthy or poor.”
Priscilla Giri, research administrator at TeaLeaf (Teachers Leading the Frontline) Mansik Swastha, a mental health program in Darjeeling, India, expressed her concern for children’s mental health needs.
“The lockdown has led to increased levels of anxiety or stress among all, including children,” Giri said. “[Anxiety and stress] could be expressed through aggression or through tantrums among the young children.”
Aparna Joshi, assistant professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences International, is running a helpline. Joshi has noticed that technology is helping combat the effects of isolation.
“I think we helped people provide that kind of space to talk about this isolation, to talk about the stress, and to talk about the social injustice that they were experiencing,” Joshi said.
The speakers stressed how one way that people can promote well-being during the pandemic is to simply talk more often about mental health in schools and communities.
“I think [talking about mental health] really highlights what perhaps everyone has been talking about underneath, which is the ability of an individual to really make a difference,” said Christina Cruz, assistant professor of psychiatry at UNC-Chapel Hill and co-moderator of the conversation.
The webinar was hosted on Oct. 23 via Zoom and was co-sponsored by the UNC Division of Global Mental Health. A joint effort of the Department of Psychiatry in the UNC School of Medicine and Department of Epidemiology in UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, the UNC Division of Global Mental Health has a mission to contribute to the reduction in the burden of mental disorders in low- and middle- income resource settings globally.
The UNC Modern Indian Studies initiative was designed to transform the study and understanding of contemporary India for students, researchers, entrepreneurs and future leaders. This initiative is led by Anusha Chari, professor of economics and finance, and was developed in partnership with leaders from North Carolina’s Indian American community.
The next webinar in the Modern Indian Studies series, “Global Innovation for Kidney Disease: Leveraging Technology to Improve Access and Reduce Cost,” will be held Friday, Nov. 20. More details can be found on the event listing.