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We began this exploration with the recognition and hypothesis that loneliness is experienced differently in India than it is in the U.S. and UK. In some ways, our premise was right. From the country’s political history and religious tradition, to its many languages and dialects, to its urban and rural divide, India’s heterogeneity delivered numerous conceptualizations of loneliness within (and, in some cases, its absence from) the culture. More acutely, the understanding of loneliness as both a normal part of the human condition, which is manageable with the right skills, sits opposite to its western narrative. The goal is not to cure loneliness. Instead, it is to help one navigate the experience. This position is reaffirmed, for better or for worse, in cultural norms that position time alone as a luxury of the elite.

But for all of the accounted differences, the similarities are just as formative. For example, the critiques of social media and its correlations with problematic use and depression and anxiety were once again key points of concern. (Though, as with the U.S. and UK, there lacks empirical evidence on the impact of social media on loneliness in India.) Likewise, there is a shared sense that engaging multiple stakeholders, increasing investment, and facilitating multidisciplinary collaboration are all necessary to helping people navigate loneliness. Finally, and most pertinent, is a shared concern about access and equity to digital tools and interventions. India may be one of the most digitally connected populations (by total number) in the world, but technology has its limitations, particularly in the mental health realm. The key is to safeguard against building a digital environment that exacerbates barriers to access, information, and equitable social connection.

Ajay Nair, CEO of Swasth and Kamalnayan Bajaj Fellow, summarizes the tension best:

There are two Indias. The first is one experiencing a step-change, in terms of how people perceive the stigma of mental health and loneliness. And then, there’s this whole other India which still exists where the rest of the world was 60, 100-years ago where people still get locked up. There is a lack of therapists and mental health resources. So, how do you address this for the India that doesn’t get served by the tech innovation of the day? Our tech innovation solves for the first 200 million people but then there’s 1.2 billion people left.

The intent of this exploration was to uncover and better understand the cultural context of loneliness, technology, and social connection in India. Thanks to these discussions, we came to better understand India as a country with a rich history and set of traditions around mental health, a diverse and growing population, and an unparalleled digital infrastructure, as well as the home of an emergent set of leaders willing to reimagine the mental health care gap. The tide is starting to shift. And, while we identify and speak to many of the challenges of situating loneliness within India and its culture, it is clear that technology can and will play an integral role in increasing access to care and other services. Accessibility, approachability, and affordability, can and will be key to realizing this. At the end, we are most struck by the idea that, in many ways, India is uniquely positioned to steer the course on a larger scale for what an inclusive and equitable social connection approach may look like for future generations. Our hope is that research and discussions such as this will continue and contribute to its ascension as leaders in this space.

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