Most families and communities in India refuse to see mental health as a serious concern. For them, chronic depression, sadness, fears, anxiety are merely a matter of state of mind, circumstantial, something that can be handled with a bit of inspiration. It’s like people finding it impossible to see alcoholism as a disease.
Mental health disorders among the elderly increased by over 50% during the Coronavirus pandemic, exacerbating a crisis that has afflicted the aged, especially the disempowered, for a long time.
Loneliness and a desire to belong is driving many in their twilight toward community living in old-age homes; only after having lost all hope of being accepted in their own homes do such people take this decision. There are others who come willingly, simply wanting to spend the rest of their lives differently. Whatever the circumstances may be, mentally, most of them are troubled.
Unless we change the way we see mental illness, this crisis will potentially cause irreversible damage. Many homes for the elderly are rising to this challenge, finding novel ways to tackle this mental infirmity.
Vridhcare, an NGO that provides accommodation, food, basic amenities and other means of livelihood, has partnered with multiple humanitarian organisations that offer tools to battle and overcome poor mental health. Yoga classes, counselling, meditation and happiness sessions are offered in many old-age homes across the Delhi-NCR region.
Vridhcare has tied up with the Art of Living Foundation, a humanitarian NGO run under the auspices of Sri Sri Ravishankar, for conducting sessions that can help achieve a stress-free, healthy life.
Niraj Gera, a senior faculty member of Art of Living, says, “People in their sunset years, especially those with a history of conflict in a family, are living a disturbed life, mentally. One of the areas we are focusing on is how to bring about the calmness of mind. Breathing techniques, like Sudarshan Kriya, is extremely beneficial in this regard. But elderly people are more or less like children. We need to be patient with them”.
Anecdotal, quantitative and qualitative evidence all point to a constructive relationship between spirituality and mental health.
Vridhcare’s collaboration with the Brahma Kumaris, a spiritual movement, could especially add a new dimension to the whole exercise, opening up the possibility to achieve some ‘soul consciousness’.
Ms BK Pooja from the Brahmakumaris believes a spiritual lifestyle has the potential to transform lives. “Spiritual experiences can be helpful when coping with the stresses of life. To restore hope and optimism. Spirituality is a source of comfort and offers feelings of interconnectedness. A sustained practice can be very effective in transforming lives.”
These steps and such ideas are life-altering. If consistency in such practices is maintained, India’s elderly may start looking at life differently.