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What We Got Wrong About Happiness

Mental wellness is the state in which your body and mind are working in tandem. Consider it from the perspective that your brain is working hard to serve you well. The brain is constantly doing the most with the fewest resources available but it has a limit. When your mental health is suffering, you may begin to feel as if you're spinning or disconnected from your surroundings. This can eventually lead to mental problems and leave a person feeling stuck. I believe it is important to remember that, just like your car, your brain will require maintenance to restore its resources. It is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, recognize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community. Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and harder to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases its burden. It is easier to say, “My tooth is aching” than to say, “My heart is broken”.

Inequality presents itself in many shapes and forms in the world today but no one could have anticipated that there may be variations in the concentration of mental health problems in our economy. Poverty is both a cause and a consequence of poor health. People with low salaries frequently have poorer health because they are unable to afford proper accommodation, food or daycare. Over 10,000 children die every day because they live in poor housing.1 Without effective sanitation in their home, children are especially vulnerable to life-threatening diarrhoea and intestinal infections. And in houses where there is insufficient ventilation, people are especially vulnerable to respiratory diseases. All these years we have often correlated income to physical health - a person belonging to a lower income bracket is at higher risk of being malnourished than a person with higher income - but what about mental health? Mental health is an essential component of overall well-being since mental issues are relatively common, even in older people. The world is in a state of ‘Mental Poverty’. While there is a growing body of research on poverty, poor mental health, and disability, little has been done to investigate the interplay of stigma (unfair treatment or discrimination because of poor mental health conditions), particularly in low-income countries. Four out of five people with mental illness don’t receive treatment because they have low or middle income.2 Why do we think that money has an impact on mental health?

The Grossman health production model's traditional framework for health economics assumes that health status improves with money by alleviating budgetary restraint, especially in retirement when the investment function of health is less important. The case of mental health, however, may benefit from modifying the conventional model. Particularly, psychosocial stress has been identified as a significant risk factor for mental illness, and sources of psychosocial stress are thought to include things like income and financial security. This shows that, in addition to overcoming the financial obstacle, income may have a more direct impact on the development of mental health. Social causality and social selection have been proposed as the two key processes explaining the relationship between mental illness and income.

According to the social causation theory, adversity, stress and a decreased ability to cope due to a lack of resources raise the chance of developing mental illness. In line with the social selection hypothesis, those who suffer from mental illnesses are more likely to experience a decline in socioeconomic status due to possible genetic factors, hospitalizations brought on by mental illness and/or loss of employment. According to a survey, in India around 22 out of 1 lakh people commit suicide. On the other hand, 10.7 out of 1 lakh people commit suicide in the US.3 Even though the per capita income in the US is about 25 times higher than that of India’s per capita income, the suicide rate is 50% of that of India. Another parallel can be drawn between Finland and India. Finland has been recognized as the happiest nation in the world for the fifth consecutive year, in the 2022 ‘World Happiness Report’.

In Finland, 873,000 Finns, or 16.0% of the total household population, were at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2019. In India, 68.8% of the Indian population lives on less than $2 a day. Over 30% even have less than $1.25 per day available. A study revealed that 14% of India’s population suffered from mental health ailments, including 45.7 million suffering from depressive disorders and 49 million from anxiety disorders.4 Therefore, these data clearly show that income plays an important role in the state of a country's mental health. Another aspect that worsens the situation besides the fact that two-thirds of people in India live in poverty, is that mental health issues are considered an even greater taboo in countries like India as compared to those in the West. Due to the stigmas associated with mental diseases, people choose to suffer in silence and sweep problems under the rug rather than coming forward and reaching out for treatment. From a macroeconomic point of view, the cost of mental illness in a defined population can be quantified as the lost economic production by estimating the expected impact of mental illness on the gross domestic product (GDP). Functional constraints start to apply the moment a person's mental health is compromised. Focus, multitasking, managing stress, interacting with clients and coworkers, making decisions, handling criticism, and responding to change are all negatively impacted, leaving the professional vulnerable. Without assistance, these workers struggle to function, have a propensity to underperform, report absenteeism, and even have a higher likelihood of quitting their employment completely.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the economic loss to India on account of mental health disorders to be US$ 1.03 trillion. WHO data show that at least 57 million people in India are affected by depression. Seeking treatment is made difficult by the fact that admission into a healthcare facility comes with its own stigma. Additionally, a one-hour session with a qualified therapist costs no less than Rs 800 and one would need to take 20-30 sessions on average before seeing an improvement in their emotional health. Whilst the price of medical help remains high, the average wage in India, which was 272.19 INR/Day in 2014 has reduced considerably due to the pandemic years 2019-2022. The margin between the earnings and expenditure on mental health clearly shows the no-win situation for the poor people in the country. We are no longer living in the 19th century. We should stop making people ‘aware’ of mental health and poverty because everybody knows about it. Instead, we should start educating people in order to change their perceptions about it and take the necessary steps to combat this epidemic. Just as we are taught in school how to get a job, we should also be taught how to live in a state of happiness because times have changed and now happiness also pays our bills.

Naavya Arya
Writing Mentorship, 2022

References:

1. Effects of Poverty on Health, Children & Society: How We Break the Cycle. (2018, September 7). Habitat for Humanity GB. Retrieved from https://www.habitatforhumanity.org.uk/what-we-do/building-and-renovating-homes/effects-of-poverty/

2. NCBI - WWW Error Blocked Diagnostic. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5398308/

3. NCBI - WWW Error Blocked Diagnostic. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5398308/

4. India, I. F. (n.d.). Understanding India’s mental health crisis. Ideas for India. Retrieved from https://www.ideasforindia.in/topics/human-development/understanding-india-s-mental-health-crisis.html

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