Passion & compassion

Why it’s important to challenge stereotypes around mental illness and ask for help

Are you quick enough to consult a mental health practitioner or discuss with people around you? The answer is a most likely a no.

 |  Passion & compassion  |  6-minute read |   31-03-2019
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When you’re down with a regular headache, you pop a pill. When you’re down with a cold, a fever or some other physical illness, you discuss it with people around you. Then you go visit a doctor and you are treated, and all is well.

silence-690_032819065440.jpgIf you feel down and out you need to know help is around. (Source: Reuters)

Are there times in your life when you feel down and out? Feel symptoms of clinical depression, suicidal thoughts, sheer lack of hope?

We all do at some point.

It’s only human — so stop being in denial. No matter what the trigger is for any of these symptoms — it is the mind acting up. Are you quick enough to consult a mental health practitioner or discuss with people around you?

The answer is most likely a no.

Why? If your lungs, stomach, liver, kidneys can be ill, why can’t the brain be ill? Why can’t it go through a chemical imbalance, just like a hormonal imbalance?

When a child has difficulty coping with everyday life, facing exam stress or some learning disability, most parents shy away from even bringing it up. Leave alone taking the child to a counsellor or a psychiatrist.

I thought about this long and hard. Saw friends suffer, saw parents suffer because their children were suffering. I saw people close to me who are unable to wake up to reality and find comfort in sleep, drugs, overeating, activities of instant gratification.

I saw very close friends go through messy divorces, share bad relationships with their next of kin. They constantly complained of migraines, inexplicable crying spells, panic attacks, disorders linked to emotional stress, anxiety and what have you. And when I asked them to visit a psychiatrist, they took the contact details — but they never went.

depression-690_032819065353.jpgIt is high time we stop calling people dealing with mental health issues as crazy. (Source: Reuters)

There is a stigma attached to mental illnesses of all kinds. When people speak, they are blamed for their condition. “Try to control your mind.” “Try to divert your mind — it’s just a phase you’re going through.” These are common reactions that follow.

Mental illness is not a personal failure.

Psychological and emotional well-being is often an ongoing process for each one of us. We must engrave this proverbially in our minds.

Why is it that we are unable to accept these patients in society without raising an eyebrow? Why is it that talking about mental illness is such a big secret? It is because of society that they shy away from opening up. The same society that has conditioned the same patients to bite their lips but not disclose their condition.

Ever wondered why people who have it all commit suicide?

If they saw a mental health practitioner who showed them life from a different prism, helped them clear a foggy mindspace, addressed the trigger and nipped it in the bud, put them on medications that gave them relief, they probably would not have taken that fatal plunge.

People with mental illnesses are living a very tough life. On one hand, there could be the repercussions of the clinical ailment itself. On the other, they’re exposed to flak from society that is unable to accept them professionally and personally. The fear of losing a job, marriage or even social acceptance is high with these patients. Well, there are a few who have started braving it all and are breaking the stereotypes and they’re getting a hold on their life again — they’re doing much better than the ones who never accept their condition or act on it.

A recent World Health Organisation (WHO) study revealed India is the most depressed country in the world. Look and ask around. Are enough people doing anything about it?

Sensitivity for an illness like this ought to be developed through support groups and education. Recently, I was at a Mind Speakers 2019 session organised by Dr Samir Parikh and his colleagues at Fortis Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences arm. It was a relief to see young mental health advocates in one room become flag-bearers of the cause to help their peers. We need more of this. Those kids were sensitive. They were sensitised by the entire team of mental health practitioners towards these issues.

They will grow up to be emphatic adults. The problem with India today is of misguided adults who build stereotypes towards these sufferers. These young people will be much-needed saving graces for a society that writes off these patients and victims as 'crazy'.

dep-690_032819065857.jpgThe rumours around the side-effects of medication for mental health issues must stop. (Source: Twitter/NeuroYoder)

I salute their efforts and wish to ensure they get all the support they need always. Just look at the support group they are creating in society and how actively they are using the power of social media to create awareness. Such efforts can save people from suicides and suffering because they reassure them — they don’t judge. They spread awareness and show solutions. There is a certain level of comfort for sufferers that kids like these create in society. They will grow up to be adults who will create a much better society.

Over the past two years of my close attention on this subject, I have had run-ins with friends who have finally gathered the guts to go seek professional intervention, only to never follow the line of medication prescribed to them or stop the treatment when someone very casually tells them they’re ‘crazy’ and don’t need any of this. Or become subject to nagging parents, telling them to stop before someone found out.

There are these extremely unsettling theories of the side-effects that accompany medication that helps mental illnesses.

Do we really think that we know better than these doctors who have done extensive study on this subject? If your doctor has decided to prescribe something to you, s/he has obviously evaluated the benefit of that drug to your system. Trust them.

Today, we live in a day and age where starting from kids to adults, stress levels are only on the rise. Kids may face bullying, exam stress, body shaming, learning disabilities, stresses of a broken home, anxiety and even depression — similar to what adults often face.

Adults have a lot of physical manifestations of mental illnesses — it’s just so common that it surprises me why they won’t address it.

I’ve had interactions with people who claim nearing mental breakdowns and need a break. Imagine going to your boss and saying this. It won’t fly!

You will lie and cook up a reason and take leave — why is it that one can’t be honest? Stigma. Misguidance. Stereotyping. Lack of awareness about the subject. This is what needs to change in society. This is the very attitude of frowning upon these sufferers and making them feel inferior to everyone else.

Sometimes, all you need is someone to give you hope, some counselling in a scientific fashion, some medication to help you cope and a support system that facilitates and an ecology where you don’t feel singled out. Sometimes, just talking about it normalises conversation around it. It is we, as society, who can change all of these rigid beliefs.

It starts with you.

Today.

Now.

Also read: How to talk about depression in India

Writer

Chaiti Narula Chaiti Narula @chaiti

The author is deputy editor with India Today TV.

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