Hi all! I’m so happy to share the first amazing guest post for Shattering Stigmas. I love that Nia has shared a more informative post while discussing the current stigmas regarding mental illness in India. I always like learning more about how the non-Western world is doing with mental health. Thank you so much, Nia!
Writing about mental health and wellness is always a tricky subject for me — people are quick to judge and dismiss it as something you’re making up or tell you that “it’s all in your head,” which is really ironic because like Dumbledore once said (in an unrelated context), “Of course it is happening inside your head. . .but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
In theory, talking about mental health and the brain seems easy. That’s why you’ve got volumes upon volumes on the brain — on how and why it functions (or doesn’t) the way it does, what happens when it doesn’t function the way we expect it to and how we can fix it. All this sounds interesting in theory, sure. But when it comes to understanding the impact of mental illnesses, we all fall short. A lot of the unwillingness to understand stems from fear and misinformation. The internet is one of the best things invented but it also the primary source of information for a lot of people, so it’s important to make sure the right kind is accessible to the general public.
I come from one of the largest, most densely populated cities in the world — Mumbai. There are millions of people who live there and my favourite thing about it is that most of the time you can do whatever you want and no one will care. Everyone tries to mind their own business as best as they can. But when it comes to discussing mental health and seeking professional help, people are scared. Communities talk, rumours fly fast and loose, “They’re not right in the head,” or “I heard they’re seeking therapy” where the therapy is said in hushed tones, like the magical world learning to use the name Voldemort without fear.
Why do we need Mental Health Awareness at all?
“Log kya kahenge,” is the primary way people are discouraged from talking about their mental health issues and illnesses. Loosely translated, it means “What will people say?” The fear of being ostracized because you have a mental illness runs high in India.
According to the World Health Organization, 15% of all illnesses and diseases are mental in nature. India has the second-largest population in the world, and most of them have limited access (if any at all) to mental health and wellbeing services. No wonder then, the report also states that India has one of the largest numbers of people suffering from mental health issues in the whole world.
When you think about it logically, people aren’t faulted for needing glasses to see, athletes aren’t blamed when they pull a muscle or break a knee during gameplay — it happens. And so, you seek treatment for it. It seems simple enough when it comes to physical injuries and illnesses — you go to a healthcare professional and get some help, including but not limited to medicines.
It’s incredibly stupid that the same logic isn’t applied to mental health. India devotes less than 1% of its entire budget for mental health purposes, it might be nicer to call it a teeny, tiny fraction so save face. But thankfully, it’s not all gloom and doom. India passed the Mental Healthcare Act in 2017, which takes steps to lessen the stigma of suffering from and seeking help for mental illnesses as well as makes an effort to provide accessible mental health services across the country. It’s a small step, but it’s one in the right direction.
Let’s do a Rihanna and talk about Work
The only way for people to take notice of the effect of not treating mental illnesses is for them to lose money. So, let’s talk about the working population of India and their mental health for a second.
According to recent research, nearly 43% of India’s corporate private-sector workers face depression or some kind of anxiety disorder. That’s almost one in two people. But when you talk about mental health in the workplace, you risk losing your jobs and marking yourself out as someone who shouldn’t be hired because of your mental illness. That’s discrimination, plain and simple. The stigma associated with mental illness doesn’t make it easy to find a job anywhere in the world, let alone India.
When asked, 75% of people asked said their primary emotion towards people suffering from and dealing with mental health issues would be sympathy. That’s heartening to hear, but let’s also take into account the 44% that would feel anger and the 14% that would be fearful.
Those latter statistics is why we need to destigmatize mental illness and promote better mental health and wellbeing practices. In India, the stigma associated with mental illnesses has a while to go away but it’s nice to know that steps are being taken in the right direction (although there have been some painful missteps too). People are actively considering therapy, and encouraging friends and family to seek help. In rural areas, wherever possible, education is slowly helping people realize that mentally ill people need medical and professional help, not violence. It’s a gradual change that will take some time, but the seeds have been sown.
Channing Tatum: “Everyone Should be in Therapy”
And he’s right! We should all be therapy because you might think, I’m not depressed or anxious or anything, so then why bother? Because therapy isn’t just for when you suffer from mental illness. It’s to help to understand yourself and your mind better.
Seeking help in the form of anything, but mainly therapy and medicines, is frowned upon. It’s seen as weak, to ask for help and to take medicines to fix your brain. But if your brain doesn’t work like it’s supposed to, it’s totally valid for you to take medicines! Refer back to my argument about needing glasses or any other aid to live life a little better.
BTS’s Min Yoongi (SUGA) puts it quite succinctly, “[I]f they talk about it openly — if they talk about depression for example like it’s the common cold, then it becomes more and more accepted if it’s a common disorder like the cold. More and more, I think artists or celebrities who have a voice should talk about these problems and bring it up to the surface.”
People suffering from mental illness also need support systems they can depend upon. This is also why we need to make sure the stigma attached to talking about mental illness is eradicated because otherwise, the majority of the population will continue to be afraid, angry, and misinformed about mental health.
It might seem like the mission for mental health awareness is going really well when the people you follow on Twitter are unflinchingly candid about sharing their depressive episodes or anxiety attacks — make no mistake, they are incredibly brave for talking about it publicly when the general consensus is still to judge and shy away from talking about anything that affects your brain. But we need to do better to educate ourselves and fully accept bad mental health days just like any other sick day ourselves before we can try and destigmatize it for everyone else. It’s difficult, it’s making yourself vulnerable but it’s the more we talk about mental health, the easier it’s going to get and the less vulnerability that will be asked from you (and everyone else).
Let’s aim to be more honest about our bad mental health days, and also try and seek help from both professionals and our support systems because we don’t have to do everything ourselves.
It’s OK to ask for help, and you should! Take care of yourself and your lovely little brain. For everyone else who’s unsure about how you can help destigmatize mental illnesses, here’s a tip: talk to your friends and family about how they’re feeling! Check-in and take stock, offer support and encouragement when you can and leave the judgement somewhere far behind.
Remember, your brain is an amazing little thing, but cut it some slack and give it time (and whatever else it needs) to get better!
Hi, I’m Nia. I’m passionate about mental health and wellbeing. Why, I hear you ask? Because I’ve suffered from depression in the past and still have anxious days. I’m like that one hero who answered with, “Because I live here!” when someone was about to destroy his planet. So yes, I’ve a vested interest because I’d love for people around me to be able to talk about their both their good and bad mental health days freely and seek help when they need to without any stigma attached to it.
I’m usually lurking on Twitter @sleepyhollowkid and Bookstagram @perceptivemadness but sometimes I also muse about things I find interesting on my blog: Freedom & Inspiration. I read books and stan BTS in the little free time I have after I’ve procrastinated the entire day.