Psychology and Psychiatry Fail Farmers in India

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From Mad in America: An article published in the Journal of Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry asks why the psy-disciplines (psychology and psychiatry) in India remain silent on the epidemic of farmer suicides. The article is written by Sudarshan R. Kottai at Christ University in Bengaluru. It asks why mental health professionals are not addressing the social, political, and economic factors that contribute to the farmers’ suffering.

The author explains that farmers in India have been protesting against changes in farming laws since the 1990s. These laws have favored big corporate farms and made it difficult for small family farmers to compete. As the cost of farming increases and farmers go into debt, their mental health suffers, and suicide rates among farmers rise. Similar trends have been observed among American farmers and people with medical debt in the United States.

Farmer suicides are a rampant problem. However, instead of seeing these deaths as a result of oppression, they are often treated as individual medical problems. The article highlights that most research papers on Indian farmer suicides say that the solution is reducing access to the means of suicide (for example poison) and increasing access to mental health treatment. In other words, the only proposed solution is an increase in the access to psychiatry, psychology, and medication:

“A majority of those committing suicide were small farmers who had been adversely affected by the introduction of neo-liberal economic policies during the early 1990s. Some of these had over-extended themselves financially. Not only had their agricultural income declined as a result of crop losses, but their costs of cultivation and indebtedness to informal agencies had increased.”

However, the author is skeptical of relying only on mental health treatment because that focuses on individual causes rather than looking at the larger social and systemic issues. This is the trend that is popular in the Global North. The Global North (countries such as USA, Canada, France, Germany, UK etc.) are the birthplace of Psychology and Psychiatry and have been criticized for exporting their ideas to the rest of the world without considering whether they apply to others or not. This means that these professions do not pay attention to the context. Kottai writes:

“In other words, methodological individualism, which focuses on individual characteristics as causes of social phenomena, reifies mental distress stemming from oppression by the state as individual mental disorders.”

The article argues that farmer suicides should be seen as a social justice issue and that the problem lies within the system rather than with individual farmers. It calls for a more holistic approach to solving the problem.

The author acknowledges that psychologists and psychiatrists can still play a role in supporting farmers by listening to their stories of injustice and providing them with a language to express their experiences. This can help farmers deal with a difficult system and advocate for their rights. The article emphasizes the need for mental health professionals to be politically aware and actively engage in promoting social justice and human rights.

This article originally appeared in Mad in America and can be read here.

This is an AI generated version shortened and edited for ease of reading for a South Asian audience.


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