Given the second wave of COVID has induced anxiety and havoc in our lives, a new book brings about a certain understanding on how to cope with it.
Titled Age of Anxiety: How to Cope by Amrita Tripathi and Kamna Chhibber, and published by Simon & Schuster, the book includes inputs from mental health experts, helpline numbers, myths, facts and key insights on looking at the issue in India. The Morning Standard speaks to the authors. Excerpts:
Could you start by talking about your objective with this book on mental health?
Kamna Chhibber: Given the impact that mental health has on people’s lives, their happiness, their productivity, relationships and well-being, it is important that we prioritise them and have more conversations around it.
Anxiety as a concept has entered conversations, but many remain ill-informed about anxiety as a mental health illness. We want to help people understand that there is an illness called Anxiety Disorder, composed of several different subtypes. This would enable people to enhance their empathy towards those who have the illness, and help bust myths and misconceptions surrounding mental health illnesses. This book brings forth not just what anxiety is, but also what it looks like from the perspective of someone who has it, the understanding of different experts as well as tool kits to be able to cope with it.
Amrita Tripathi: Based on the number of search queries for anxiety, and the fact that it is one of the most common mental health conditions we see, I had proposed this to my editor Himanjali Sankar, as the third (and final) book in the ‘Mindscape’ series of books with Simon & Schuster. The idea behind the whole book series each co-authored with a wonderful psychologist is to help ‘normalise’ conversations around mental health and mental illness, from an India lens. We wanted to make these books conversation-starters, and as ‘jargon-free’ as possible.
In Age of Anxiety... as well, we have real people share real stories, and some of their experiences through interviews (and in two cases through creative writing — poetry and fiction!), underpinned by co-author Kamna Chhibber’s valuable professional expertise and experience as a clinical psychologist. That seems to be a powerful way to let people know that they are not alone. The chapters can be read as stand-alone chapters and provide insight (via lived experience, co-author Kamna’s commentary, interviews with stakeholders) and we also have some practical tips and thought-starters in here.
Tell us in brief about the chapter Living with and Understanding Anxiety Disorders in India, by Arti Malik.
Amrita: It is based on a piece that Arti Malik who has worked in the field of development, law and human rights wrote for The Health Collective, that examined the prevalence of anxiety disorders in India. Primarily as we set up the site to focus on mental health and mental illness from an India lens, Arti worked with us on the draft to include quotes, facts and stats. You’ll see a lot of stories told from the first person point of view on the site. In the book, Arti has built on the piece to talk about living with anxiety, sharing more on what it feels like, and also some common myths and facts.
The book also includes some prominent myths and facts on anxiety by Pragya Lodha. Could you give us an insight into those?
Amrita: Pragya Lodha is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist who shared some common Myths and Facts about Anxiety with Sukanya Sharma, for the Health Collective, for inclusion in this book. And I’m delighted to share we have a list of colloquial terms for anxiety with thanks to a veritable roll-call of stakeholders.
Here are two examples (by Pragya Lodha).
Myth: Having coffee / caffeine causes anxiety
Fact: Having moderate amounts of 3-4 servings of coffee (not more than 400 mg) is normal. If a person is suffering from anxiety disorder, having excess caffeine can aggravate the anxiety, but not necessarily cause anxiety in the first place.
Myth: A person who has panic attacks is just faking it to get attention
Fact: This is not true, panic attacks are real with physiological, physical and emotional changes in the person who experiences panic attacks.
How can people take care of their mental health during the pandemic-related stressors?
Kamna: Focus on what you can control and do not get lost in what is outside of your control.
Keep bringing yourself to what is there in front of you in the here and now. Find time for the things that help you unwind and relax. Prioritise self-care in order to provide for the emotional and psychological needs of those around you. Try to follow routines. Remind yourself to take it one day at a time. Find the smaller moments of joy in your day-to-day life. Try to maintain a balance between the tasks you need to do and the things you can do for recreation. Accept and embrace your emotional experiences. Speak those around you if you are having challenges in coping with situations.
Give us an insight into your career from a news anchor to running your own company, The Heath Collective.
Amrita: I really enjoyed the adrenaline and having a front-row seat to news as it breaks, as much as I enjoyed my role as a reporter, meeting people, telling stories and learning so much every day. But it’s the story-telling that has remained the common denominator. The fact that I was at one point a Health Editor, gave me a lot of access into areas, including mental health – which got surprisingly little play in the mainstream media. I wanted to use some of the story-telling skills, network, and domain knowledge there to set up a site that could help connect the dots, and make space for these stories on mental health and illness. We have been commissioning stories, artwork and columns for almost five years now. Our ‘tribe’ of readers, contributors, friends has only been growing and it’s quite a fulfilling role that we can play.
Tell us about your forthcoming title on ‘Suicide Prevention in India’.
Amrita: This book is with psychiatrists Dr Soumitra Pathare (Consultant Psychiatrist and Director, Centre for Mental Health Law & Policy at the Indian Law Society in Pune) and Dr Abhijit Nadkarni (Associate Professor of Global Mental Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine & Co-Director, Addictions Research Group, Sangath, Goa).
Suicide is one of the biggest issues we face in India, especially when you look at young Indians – and a lot of the reporting is not up to the mark. The book (forthcoming from Simon & Schuster India) takes a closer look at the importance of Suicide Prevention in India, by making the science behind the cause of suicides and effective interventions more accessible to the public and policy-makers.
It also aims to chart out a call-to-action for all major stakeholders (communities, journalists, policy-makers, experts).
Age of Anxiety: How to Cope
By: Amrita Tripathi & Kamna Chibber
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Price: Rs 399