Indian Society’s Worst Mistake: Stigmatizing Mental Health Illness

Have you ever wondered why people tend to stay away from someone that is suffering from depression? Or how people talk about them in hushed voices, even if they are a very close family member? These are a few things I wondered when I was growing up and for sometime in my life, I actually thought that depression was something to be scared of!

Via Healthline

But wait, why am I only talking about depression? This article said “mental health illness,” right? Well, when our Indian society refuses to even accept people with depression, the acceptance of other mental illnesses is a far-fetched idea.

Indian society sees people suffering from mental health illness as if they are a monster, a ticking time-bomb — aggressive and dangerous. Whereas, in reality, episodes of aggression and violence are rare and have a deeper meaning (maybe a symptom of psychosis). It does not mean that we should shut out people suffering from mental illness or condemn them. The grave mistake made by Indian society was to learn the meaning and seriousness of mental illness mostly from Bollywood. Bollywood mocks people with mental illness (Rohit in Koi Mil Gaya) and normalizes discriminatory behavior. Bollywood has the worst description of mental illness. Even if the characterization of a mental illness is good, they fail to mention any possible solution for the given syndrome. Rather, they use it as a major plot element — like Autism in Barfi or Depression in Anjaana Anjaani (to know more click the link). Although, not all movies are like this, a few good movies on mental illness in Bollywood are — Dear Zindagi, 15 Park Avenue, and a few more (find here). Deepika Padukone, one of the most famous actresses in Bollywood regularly shares her story of how she fought against depression(to know more, read here).

So, the whole blame cannot be burdened on Bollywood! Rather, it is our society’s inability to understand, talk about, and be aware of mental health. Society writes off mental illness as loathsome and a “bad abnormality” in a person. They relate the word “abnormality” to something being fundamentally wrong with the person and would happen to a low-income, less educated, or unhappy individual. When it’s not their fault they are like this (some environmental and parental issues aside). Therefore, if something does happen to someone who is happy or has a content life (you don’t really know what’s happening to someone), society is left stunned. What people don’t realize is that they have started a chain as they prejudiced against mental health — a chain of the victim living in denial and hiding their feelings, ultimately resulting in isolation and loneliness. Therefore, worsening the victims’ condition leads to self-harm.

We all saw an example of this as the famous Bollywood star, Sushant Singh Rajput, committed suicide last month. His demise came as a huge shock to everyone. This just says that a person can have a perfectly normal life (or least depict they have a normal life) and yet they are battling something horrific. His movie, Chhichhore, gave us a wonderful message — nothing is worth taking away your life. And yet, he died because he was also a victim of depression. Allow me to point something out, depression is not when you feel sad. Depression is very different and a hell of a place to be. Please, don’t think that you are in depression just because one day you felt super sad. Neither is all depression the same, if you hear someone has depression don’t jump to the worst conclusion. People have seasonal depression, acute depression etc. It is a complex mental illness, which involves intense sadness over a period of time and withdrawal from usual activities (to know more check this link).

However, I know depression is a dark place, and I also understand that fighting it is really hard. But giving up your life is not the only option. Nothing, absolutely nothing this world can throw at you is worth giving up your life for. If you are reading this article and you suffer with any mental illness let me tell you one thing — you are stronger than anyone I know. You are here. You are fighting. You will be okay.

An article in The Economic Times said that many people suffering from any mental disorders (like Bi-Polar disorder, Anxiety disorder etc) in India, don’t even know that they have one until very late in their lives (Ex. — Mary Alice Do, didn’t know she suffered from Bi-polar disorder until she was 45). In the same article, a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) uncovered that 7.5% of India’s population suffers from some mental disorder. WHO also predicts that by 2020, almost 20% of our country’s population will suffer from some mental disorder (link to the article).

By the looks of it, it is pretty clear that the “talk about mental illness” is a taboo in India. Going to therapy is a foreign idea. “You don’t have any major problems, you don’t need therapy” is the normal way of dismissing it. These are things that I have heard people say, I am not making this up. Mental health is stigmatized everywhere, but while in other countries people at least acknowledge (and allow therapy) these illnesses, our Indian society lives in complete denial and rejection, which leads to harmful impulsive decisions like suicide. Our society is judgmental, condescending, and prejudicing against patients of these mental disorders.

And in doing so, they are making the lives of people suffering from disorders even harder. Self prejudice is a common trait in mental disorders’ victims and then on top of that, they need to think about what society would think of them? If society will even accept them? This needs to change. We need to have a talk with anyone who does not realize how important this talk is. We need to educate ourselves and people around us! We need to bring a change.

Our society needs to make changes in the right direction by normalizing talking about mental illness, rather than demeaning them. Instead of making people feel more self-conscious and ashamed of their mental health, we need to create a safe environment where it is okay to talk about mental illnesses. Some tips are as follows -

  • No judgement and no distractions.

  • Be a listener. Listen to their problems and needs.

  • Know your limits.

  • Talk about well-being.

  • Ask them to take professional help. (To know more check out this link)

There are many ways in which you can help someone suffering or showing symptoms of any mental disorder. I highly recommend reading this article “How to help a Loved One With a Mental Illness.” Mental health is a serious issue, and it should be talked about that way. Especially during this pandemic when we are all isolated and stressed about the situation, making us vulnerable to spiral into any mental disorder or make impulsive decisions.

Stay Strong and Talk! Share your thoughts with me below!

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