CHENNAI: The world is focussed on tackling the brutality of the novel coronavirus, which has triggered lifealtering short-term and longterm effects. Financial pressures, job losses, and death of loved ones have made it difficult to cope with the prevailing uncertain circumstances, setting off a range of mental health challenges.
As the pandemic wears on, new apps, helplines and services, peer chat groups, and counselling sessions are being launched to assist those searching for a silver lining in this gloom. One such is actor Anu Hasan’s six-episode series Keeping It Real. Partnering with psychologist Aarti C Rajaratnam, the duo released a video every two weeks since April.
Their discussion is centred on topics like toxic relationships, heartbreaks, selfsabotaging, and the gifts of emotions. The hour-long conversations are dotted with insights from their personal experience. The duo talks to CE about the series, having discussions where no topic is out of bounds, and using social media effectively to campaign for mental health.
Excerpts follow What was the idea behind starting this series?
Anu Hasan (AH): It was not a bolt from the blue. Aarti and I had been discussing for over a year. The core idea was to offer something sensible, honest, and that did not talk down to people as if they were novices. Especially with the lockdown, we felt the compelling need to put out genuine content from the heart that would help those who are looking to journey inward and grow. I have shared insights from my experience, and Aarti from her professional knowledge.
How did you choose the topics?
Aarti C Rajaratnam (ACR): Topics were chosen based on many years of work with clients whose sharings I have documented systematically. Anu used her technical skills to ensure that the narrative was enhanced in the editing stage, especially since we were using Zoom. We have spoken about relationships, love, failure, loss, and emotions which are integral aspects of the human experience and can affect or enhance well-being. Our discussion on mental well-being is not based on the medical model of causeeffect- treatment, but it focusses on the gentle and vulnerable aspects of being human and dealing with experiences with greater awareness.
Has this series been a cathartic experience?
AH: It has been a healing experience for me. The topics that we discussed — love, broken heart, and the gifts of emotion — were special as they were the areas I needed to work on. Of course, this is a life-long process but I feel I have made some inroads as we prepped and delivered these episodes.
ACR: It was an opportunity for me to temporarily shed my introvert shell and connect with people, especially strangers. We wanted to put out content that was scientifically sound and still not come across as a documentary or an interview. The goals were clarity, authenticity, and deep love and respect for the people we were reaching out to.
How do we use social media to effectively raise awareness about mental health?
AH: I feel that when it is not a clinically diagnosed condition, speaking about what works for you from a practical viewpoint is okay. But the moment people start getting prescriptive and judgemental especially when they are not qualified, that’s when it gets tricky.
ACR: Social media when used responsibly is a great tool. Since sensible rules for the use of social media have not really emerged, it has caused more chaos and armchair activism especially with mental health. Opinions have replaced facts. Quick fixes, toxic positive life coaching advice, baseless tests, and services have replaced genuine support for mental health and well-being.
The real solution is not in the hashtags and clickbait articles but in genuine work on the self, on our relationships, and on our skills. This work is through sound scientific therapeutic intervention for some people. Over-exposure to social media has led to selfdiagnosis, over-diagnosis, and normalisation of inappropriate behaviour when people play the victim card with a fake diagnosis. This has made it more difficult in many cases for people needing genuine care from accessing it.
How do you respond to negative criticism and trolls?
AH: It all depends on the tone. Constructive comments are welcome. Rudeness and negativity are always met with firmness and boundaries are clearly set. This is my digital living room, and topics, language, etc., are my choice. If it resonates and helps you in some way, that’s great, if it doesn’t, move on but I do not ignore bad behaviour because I believe it is exactly this that has made the Internet the way it is. On the page, I am very clear about what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. People do change and those that don’t, are removed.
ACR: I am in a field of work where many of my clients, owing to the changes in their brain, can come across as very critical and do not refrain from shaming me online in their negative reviews and ratings. I understand, as a therapist, that they would act differently if they were more aware of what was happening to them as a result of those changes.
Having said this, I use social media for 10 minutes a day and take phone calls on specified days for 30 minutes. Setting up these boundaries helps me remain more empathetic and compassionate because I have all my resources conserved for the work that matters most (therapy or training). I just do a bedtime debrief every day and ensure that I make amends based on my own evaluation of the events that transpired during the day. There will be people who will like me and there will be people who dislike me, and it will have nothing to do with me. So, I ensure that the internal process for feedback, acceptance, and change is balanced.
AH: I am currently working on a simple series of start-ups. And again, I am doing everything from creating content to recording and filming and editing. I even learnt Adobe After Effects to do some basic logo animation. My other main plan is to get started on my second book.
ACR: The emotional fallout of COVID-19 has been high all over the world and since I consult with agencies, schools, support parents and educators with learning and literacy for children and counsel adults, at the moment I have my hands full. My next book is also almost complete, and I need to get it to a good publisher.