"Young Mental Health is not meant to be prescriptive, but something people can pick up to go through specific topics or interviews,” says Amrita Tripathi, of the book she co-authored with Meera Haran Alva. It is the second book in the Mindscape series, published by Simon & Schuster. Tripathi is the founder-editor of The Health Collective, an online portal dedicated to stories of mental health in India. Excerpts:
What is Young Mental Health about?
The book has accounts of lived experience, interviews with key stakeholders working in the field of mental health and mental illness, comics about a few first-person journeys, and a parental handbook of sorts by Meera. We have included relevant stats and figures, and interviews with young mental health advocates. The idea was to focus on mental health and mental illness from an India lens and to make the information as accessible and conversational.
What are some of the key issues children and young adults face?
Looking at several studies, the knowledge and experience of stalwarts like Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Dr Amit Sen (whose interviews and Foreword kick start the book), and Meera’s experience, we know that top issues include depression, anxiety, stress. We also cover very prevalent issues like bullying, exam stress, eating disorders and body image disorders. With a high prevalence of young suicide, we feature first-person accounts which touch upon suicidal ideation (with a trigger warning and with information on third-party helplines that can also be accessed here) and expert views on what you should do if you know someone is distressed.
What inspired you to bring a mental health book juxtaposed with illustrations?
The idea was to enable us to have conversations about some very difficult topics, including ones we shy away from. Even thinking about mental health or mental illness can feel “heavy” or “intense”, and that doesn’t have to be the case. If we’re doing our job well, you should be able to find an easier entry point into some serious topics. We didn’t want to say “Do this” or “You Should Do That”.
The artwork features first-person narratives by the artists known as Solo, Oz, and Ishita Mehra, who share in a beautiful, poignant way that perhaps 1,000 words could not. This works whether you are a young adult, an adult or an adolescent. Then, there are comics by Kishore Mohan and Affirmations by Adwaita Das, which are positive statements that we can repeat to ourselves. The art makes the book what it is, and I hope readers agree!
What is your message to parents whose child is undergoing stress?
Learning from what the experts share and from what we have gleaned from interviews and first-person accounts, I would say that there is no one-size-fits-all perspective. If you think you need professional advice, please do reach out to an expert.
Often, your children need to be able to talk to you openly, have a conversation that goes beyond academics, be able to talk about pressure they face, bullying, and let off steam. It is completely okay, and sometimes even critically important, that they are able to reach out to professionals to speak about their stress.
What can be done to make people take mental health issues seriously in India?
This interview, any conversation we can have responsibly, our book series and interviews, even our website, are all attempts to bring into the mainstream such conversations. Each of us can make a difference. We can equip ourselves with the skills to be empathetic listeners and learn about where help is available. We need to learn more, help combat stigma and the internalised shame that prevents many from reaching out for help.