From Ignorance to Advocacy
Psychologists are stuck in the cycle of ignorance and outrage, repeatedly failing at turning the ephemeral anger into organised advocacy.
My dream: discussions on mental health policy proposals in psychology classrooms before the authorities make the decisions.
The reality: most psychologists become aware of rules, policies, and laws after they are notified and published.
In the last few years, I have tried to bridge the gap between this dream and reality. We are still at the awareness stage. I cannot say when the mass advocacy stage would come, although we see “mental health advocate” written in social media bios all the time.
Almost all the mental health policy conversations are led and driven by psychiatrists, lawyers, and social workers. The psychologists are rarely part of these conversations. Therefore, we keep seeing laws that are not favourable to the psychology profession.
The questions I get about mental health laws are primarily related to an immediate, practical concern. How can I register under the National Commission for Allied and Healthcare Professions Act 2021? When will the Commission be formed? I have done this degree from this university; would it be recognised under this law? What would happen to those having distance learning qualifications? And they go on.
I seldom get conceptual questions and concerns that take a long-term perspective. Why are some professionals called ‘behavioural health sciences professionals’ while others are termed ‘mental health professionals?’ What are the criteria for the inclusion of a profession in the NCAHP Act? How are the professional categories defined? Has the law been designed using a rights-based approach? Are the psychologists adequately represented in the various authorities?
Our focus should not only be on following a law. We should also be asking if it is a good law. We should be able to imagine the consequences before a proposal takes shape.
This is where psychology professionals fail. Generations of psychologists have been brought up with zero public policy imagination. Their awareness and outrages about laws are post facto.
But the sadder fact is that even this post facto ephemeral anger does not turn into organised advocacy.
For instance, the NCAHP Act recognises educational qualifications obtained through regular mode only. The mental health — sorry, behavioural health — professionals who possess distance learning degrees and years of experience can no longer practice now. Therefore, they are upset. But do they have organized themselves, protested, and asked the government to amend the Act?
It is time for psychologists to study why they cannot implement what they preach.
I have started two petitions: one to the Government of India to increase expenditure on mental health in Union Budget 2022-23 and another to political parties to include mental health provisions in their manifestoes for upcoming legislative assembly elections. You can sign them here and here.