India's first Mental Health Festival aims to prevent mental illness by connecting art and mind

Oct 08, 2017, 14:08 IST | Anju Maskeri

The country's first Mental Health Festival in Bengaluru will focus on preventing mental illness by highlighting the connection between art and the mind

While brainstorming on the content for India's first Mental Health Festival, psychologist Dr Sujata Minhas and project manager Hitesh Sanwal were clear that the event will focus only on mental health and not mental illness. The two concepts, they realised, were being increasingly used interchangeably. "In India, we don't have a concept of mental health. 'Mental health' and 'mental illness' tend to be spoken about as if they mean the same thing, but that isn't true. Mental health is essentially mental well-being. It refers to our emotion and thoughts, our ability to cope with stress, work productively and contribute to society. The basic difference is that while everyone has mental health, not everybody has a mental illness," she says. However, the numbers when it comes to the latter are growing, she says.


Last year, findings of a National Mental Health Survey conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru, revealed that almost 13.7 per cent of India's population has various mental disorders; 10.6 per cent of them require immediate intervention. "What's worse is that nobody's talking about it. Everybody waxes eloquent on the need to remain physically fit, but the subject of mental health is brushed under the carpet," says Sanwal. It's this taboo that he hopes to combat through the initiative. 

On October 10, the Mental Health Foundation (India) will organise India's First Mental Health Festival at AIIMS New Delhi. The festival will highlight the connection between art and mental health. "Mental illnesses have certain disabling effects on an individual. But it can be reversed through art, humour and music because they have a positive effect on the brain," says Dr Minhas. According to her, art -- whether music, painting, writing, dance, whatever -- can contribute immeasurably to psychological well-being. Researches have backed this theory, she adds.

"Several studies have revealed that practising art can help a person get a handle on emotions and express themselves better."

The festival, therefore, is open to all, and will include activities such as slam poetry, debates, symposium, paintings and photography. Till now, the festival has received over 300 entries. Sanwal says they are seeking content that is relatable. "We want people to think, 'Oh, I'm not alone in this'. I also want attendees to unwind themselves, and not feel like they have signed up for some heavy duty stuff," says Sanwal. It is for this reason that the organisers have resolutely stayed away from delving into the subject of mental illnesses. "We want to banish the gloominess associated with the subject of mental health, and give it a positive spin. We also believe focusing on mental health is a way of preventing illness," he says.

According to Dr Minhas, art not only helps an individual express themselves better, but also contributes in inducing certain emotions. "For instance, you listen to the lyrics of a romantic song, and you begin to feel that emotion. It activates certain areas of the brain," she explains.

The event will also see a segment on mental health at the workplace, which is the theme announced by the World Federation of Mental Health this year. "The problem with today's generation is that we have nobody to talk to. We feel low, but we can't say it. If we are angry, we don't know how to express it in the right manner. There's no harm in sadness or negative or positive emotions. They have to be communicated in a non-aggressive way. And, that's where art comes into the picture," she says.

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