New Narratives and Newer Concerns

By Ekasmayi Naresh
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I am not sure if it’s the complexity of ideas like epistemic uncertainty or rejection of metanarratives in describing the multiplicity of narratives or if it’s the sheer allure and ease of consuming movies like Pulp Fiction or books like The Night Circus, which summarily drive home the same point, but my understanding of narratives and their diversity is largely begotten of a steady diet of popular culture. And despite my overpowering need to believe I am unique in this exercise, I am sure many others share a similar account as well.

Still, others who may scoff at the idea of deep-diving into the world of books or movies need only look to their phones and tap on the first social media app that catches their eye to realize the enormity of narratives that abound our post-modernist world. With everyone having access to myriad sources of information and still more creative avenues to express themselves, it is only understandable that numerous narratives on any given issue saturate our information feed. 

The issue of mental health is no different. In fact, it can be taken as a prototype of how multiple narratives engender our understanding of a topic. A quick look back to the not so remote past would highlight how the issue of mental health in India was shrouded in a cloak of shame. The narrative pertaining to this area was so hostile that even speaking about it was considered a taboo, while considering to access it or admitting to problems related to it were roundly rejected and relegated to the sphere of other ostracized matters like feminism, social justice or political dissent.

While little may have changed with respect to the latter issues, we have seen Indian society make some strides of progress in the field of mental health. The popular narratives about it are more amenable to acknowledging its importance and more people are willing to speak out about it and not shy away from engaging with others on this issue. Maybe this is a highly magnified account from the ivory tower that this the urban middle class but the shift in stance from extreme hostility to lukewarm amiability is still encouraging. 

This change in notions of what passes muster to be accepted within the general public discourse stems from the many disparate narratives surrounding it. With more information on the matter, more celebrities and influential personalities addressing it and a greater spirit of open-mindedness within the social landscape, the tide of narratives about a certain topic begins to mark a change from its original state of staunch inflexibility. Further, such a turning of tables is not only one-directional but the change in narratives in turn effects changes in the society it emerges from. While there is sizable consensus on the importance of mental wellbeing and health care focusing on mental health, the matter is not without its detractors.

Further, the debate over what is right and wrong within the field has sparked still other disagreements. The recent spate of allegedly unqualified individuals offering “help” on social media, to those suffering from mental illnesses, solely on the basis of their status as social media influencers, is but one example of the problematic offshoots of this overarching concern. In a landscape flooded with contrasting narratives which are, at times, strikingly polarized, it is only too natural for it to seem chaotic. However, it is qualitatively better than being inundated with a single-minded point of view with no scope for variance.

This present state calls on its audience – us, the consumers of this information, to be more discerning and proactive to verify and contest the issues and not take it at face value but it stimulates the much-needed changes in an otherwise trite topography.

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