The idea of re-posting my blog post on the Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing’s book, The Golden Notebook came to me at this time because of two recent incidents. See the original post here https://jeemolunni.com/2016/11/06/pages-out-of-the-golden-notebook/
The first incident was in my undergraduate class where I was speaking about measuring development of a country through the UNDP’s Human Development Index. It includes indicators of standard of living, health and education of the country. It is used to rank and compare the human development of countries across the world. I asked the students if they had any thoughts on the indicators included. One of the students felt that mental health should be included as an indicator of human development. I was taken aback. Apparently this is an important issue on the millennial mind. Or is it due to the conditions created by the current pandemic? Being confined at home, classes held on online and restrictions on meeting with friends creating a sense of being alone?
The second incident was a few days later when I was surprised by a mail from a colleague informing me that she would be using this blog post of mine on The Golden Notebook as a text in a test in one of her courses. On pursuing her regarding what aspect of the book review interested her she responded that it was the idea of silence versus speaking up! I re-read the post and thought that this aspect relating to mental health should be highlighted. I am getting ahead of myself, so let me first briefly describe the book.
The Golden Notebook records the life of Anna Wuff and her experiences with the communist movements in South Rhodesia and United Kingdom, The style of writing is unique and caught my academic interest. She divides the book into five notebooks and names them by the colours, black, red, yellow, blue and finally the golden notebook brings them all together. In each she records the life of four ‘free women’ and records their writing life, political views, emotional life and everyday events.
In the Yellow Notebook Lessing talks of the emotional life of these four women. As noted in the earlier post what intrigued me was “the importance of silence, not expressing our deep thoughts even in words let alone in writing, as in our Indian life and culture. For centuries women and certain social groups, read lower castes and classes, have been silenced and their voices have not been heard. We understand the importance of silence in maintaining the current prominent culture”. In the post I go on to suggest that while ‘maintaining silence’ may have been a culture of the older generation, the millennial seems to wear their emotions on their sleeves. “The minute to minute expression of thought, love, hope, despair, elation, the mundane on open sites for all ‘friends’ to see and read, is the new way of life.” This is not to ignore the continuing silence of certain castes and classes in society.
In the current context of the pandemic and restriction on mobility and physical gatherings, can speaking up, even on social media, help to maintain a mental balance? Or does it enhance people’s sense of loneliness and dissatisfaction by comparing with others seemingly perfect lives? To go back to the question of my student, we do need to take mental health more seriously. Should it be included as an indicator of health in the Human Development Index for a country? This remains an open question.