Pop-culture and Mental Health

Covid19 Helpline India organised a panel discussion on the topic “Pop Culture and Mental Health” on 24th June 2020 at 7 p.m. IST, which was streamed on Zoom and Facebook. The webinar started with Ms. Jaanvi Chopra (co-founder, Covid19 Helpline India) briefly talking about the mission and work of the helpline, followed by Ms. Nikita Gupta (co-founder, Covid19 Helpline India) introducing and welcoming the panellists and the audience. 
The first panellist for the evening was Ms. Divyani Diddi, founder of New Delhi Behavioural Network. She explained how while consuming media, we consciously or unconsciously make use of various cognitive biases and heuristics- these cognitive shortcuts go on to influence our beliefs and attitudes about ourselves and our surroundings. By giving the example of media portrayals of the ‘ideal body’ and the resultant negative body-images among individuals, she elaborated on the role of three biases- confirmation bias, availability bias, and affect heuristic. Ms. Divyani also talked about human irrationality and imperfect knowledge as the two guiding principles that should make us critique all incoming information and why we should engage in counterintuitive brain exercise to challenge our views. Our next speaker was Ms. Chrissy Sykes, creator of the ‘My Body is My Body’ Programme. She elaborated on the importance of ensuring children’s well-being during these testing times. She spoke about how parents should take care to not let their children be bombarded with information, and instead only let verifiable data reach the young ones. This would help shield them from fear and anxiety. Ms. Chrissy stressed on the need for parents to be honest, gentle, and patient while talking about or answering the children’s questions about the coronavirus. Finally, by bringing in the issue of an increase in child abuse cases during the pandemic, she discussed how emphasis needs to be laid on keeping the children safe while also maintaining the parents’ sanity. 
The third panellist was Ms. Harshleen Anand, Trending Editor at MensXP, Times Internet. She talked about the dynamic intersection of pop culture, mental health, and COVID and drew attention to the mass audience’s appetite for content based on apocalypses, epidemics and the likes. Her main focus was on how consumers should take up more responsibility for the content they consume, as it is very easy nowadays to fall for the fake information doing the rounds and set off a domino effect of panic. By using the analogy of media as a shopping mall, Ms. Harshleen advocated the need for ‘window shopping’ for information, not buying everything that it offers, and emptying our shopping cart frequently. She ended her address by advising everyone to not nibble on the ‘snack content’ that the media offers and instead make healthy choices. 
The final panellist was Dr. Sramana Majumdar, visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology at Ashoka University. She started by acknowledging the novelty of the pandemic and how that makes it difficult to make sense of what’s happening. She talked about our tendency to evaluate the validity of information on social media by looking at how many shares and likes it has- instead, we should dig deeper and look for evidence backing it before believing and sharing it forward. Next, she spoke of ‘homophily’, which is our tendency to access resources that are similar to what we have always been consuming- this keeps us trapped within an information 
bubble, and hence it is essential to seek out alternate opinions. She concluded by talking about the positive impact that social media can have now that physical contact is restricted- she advised making use of virtual communities to reduce the feeling of isolation and build a sense of resilience. 
The panellists’ addresses were followed by a Q&A round, moderated by Ms. Nikita, in which the questions sent in by the audience were taken up. To conclude, each panellist presented a closing remark and also mentioned their takeaways from the session. All panellists found the session to be interesting and appreciated the diversity of perspectives. The webinar ended with Ms. Jaanvi thanking all the panellists and attendees for their participation. The session was very informative and fruitful and was equally appreciated by all viewers and panellists.