Multiple cities in India have experienced waves of mass protests since mid-December, initiated by the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and NRC (National Register of Citizens). Incidents of violence, tear gassing, internet shutdown, and even assaults were reported due to outrage against the protesters. Regardless of one’s political afflation, these experiences, as well as media coverage of turmoil, creates a subjective experience of collective anger, hopelessness, frustration, and fatigue.
According to the World Health Organization (2002), political violence is the deliberate use of power and force to achieve political goals. The attacks all over India can be considered as political violence because they were characterized by both physical and psychological acts aimed at injuring or intimidating common people expressing their dissent against the amendment. These acts include shootings, detentions, arrests, torture, and home demolitions.
Being part of the community being targeted or attacked definitely impacts the mental health of a person associated with the community. But new researches have shown that taking part in protests as well as constantly seeing the media reports of violence significantly impacts mental health.
A study by Ni and colleagues (2016) found that major depression increased by 7% following the protests in 2014 in Hong Kong and that the odds of experiencing depression were four times higher during and after the protests. The most important findings were that the increase in depressive symptoms was seen regardless of the subject’s participation in the protest. Therefore, it can be concluded that the effect was widespread.
The two important mediating reasons identified in the research were socio-political conflicts (due to different viewpoints and ideologies) between people and exposure to online content related to protest. The second causal factor, which was exposure to online and social media content relating to protests found to inevitably trigger stress hormones in an individual. The stress can be due to thought related to the general safety of the people, current political state and probable future implications of the country.
Another study found that conflict with peers, negative emotional responses to media reports and worries about safety created mental distress add on to the turmoil creates by political issues. Other researches have shown that political violence significantly reduces an individuals’ trust in the moral organization of society, government entities, and processes of democracy. Apart from these, participating in multiple protests movement also causes a general feeling of alienation, despondency, and pessimism in the individual regarding the efforts as well as the movement.
Lastly, the World Health Organization (2001) report estimates that between one-third to one-half of people exposed to political violence will experience some type of mental distress, including PTSD, depression or anxiety.
According to Dr. Chan, the emotional effects (PTSD) is not limited to the active protesters, but even those watching events unfold on the media, who live in affected areas or work in jobs that are related to the movement – for example nurses, doctors, reporters, police, and street cleaners. These experiences trigger various emotional symptoms, but if the symptoms persist for more than four weeks, the condition becomes known as PTSD. This can take the form of intrusive memories, changes in mood, slipping into a dissociative state, depression and suicidal tendencies. Some experience delayed symptoms, and often they will be unaware of their condition.
During these tough times, it is really important to inculcate kindness and extend social support to restore the feelings of oneness and safety at a psychological level. Therefore, it is equally important to be a part of a group of people with similar ideologies to discuss the current state of affairs as well as to ventilate an ongoing emotional flux. However, if the levels of distress are beyond your regular coping mechanisms, then consulting a psychologist should become an utmost priority. Our mental state is not under complete control of others, instead, we also have the powers within us to restore the balance and fight back with resilience.
Sousa, C. A. (2013). Political violence, collective functioning and health: A review of the literature. Medicine, conflict and survival, 29(3), 169-197.