Mental health is a myth in India
My friend’s mother talks about how she wrote poems about her father’s passing away in her diary that she still cherishes 20 years later. She sometimes speaks to her fears in her sleep. Dread, anger, sadness, loneliness and all the buried emotions surface during her sleep. She never truly slept in peace in the last 20 years. Because mental illness isn’t a new fad, it’s not a new aesthetic, it's not something that a generation of teens just casually created.
Why is mental health neglected? Why is it still taboo in India?
The World Health Organisation defined mental health as ”Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
WHO has also pronounced India as the world’s ‘most depressing country.’ India is suffering from an epidemic of mental health. One in seven people from India has suffered from mental illness enveloping an entire spectrum of disorders from anxiety, depression to bipolar disorders.
Let’s dive deeper into the statistics:
As stated by the WHO, mental illness makes about 15% of the total illnesses around the world. A survey done by Our National Mental Health in 2016 discovered that approximately 14% of India’s population needed immediate mental health interference. Another 6.5% of India’s population suffered from critical mental illnesses according to the National Care of Medical Health.
10 MILLION CHILDREN ARE DIAGNOSED WITH AUTISM.
10 MILLION PEOPLE WITH EPILEPSY.
38 MILLION PEOPLE SUFFER FROM ANXIETY DISORDERS.
57 MILLION ESTIMATED TO HAVE DEPRESSION.
150 MILLION PEOPLE WITH OTHER MENTAL DISORDERS.
ONE STUDENT COMMITS SUICIDE EVERY HOUR.
WHY ARE THE NUMBERS NEVER-ENDING?
Why do Indians refrain from talking about it?
1) Lack of awareness and sensitivity:
There is a huge gap between the number of people suffering from mental disorders and the information and knowledge about mental health in India. It is forbidden to talk about mental health in Indian households. Seeking professional help is considered an offence. It is believed that people who suffer from mental health are ‘abnormal’ or ‘lunatics.’
The stigma around mental health is extremely deep-rooted in India. It is due to a lot of misinformation being passed on from generation to generation. It serves as the primary cause for people being reluctant to talk about it. We’ve all been told that ‘it’s just a phase, 'we should think positively', 'we need to pray' just because most Indians are scared to admit and acknowledge that they or their loved ones suffer from a mental disorder because of ‘what-will-people-say,’ ‘protect the family’s respect in society’ mentality, an outdated communal percept that roots from the lack of education. According to a survey conducted by The Live Laugh Love Foundation (TLLLF), 47% were highly judgemental of people suffering from mental illness and used a derogatory slur to describe them ‘ret*rd’, 26% feared the mentally ill people, 25% considered them to be violent. What’s disturbing is that all of them belong to urban civilizations and are literate. 68% agreed that the mentally ill should not be offered any help and should be isolated from society. Only 27% were supportive of the mentally ill. Such an intrusive stigma prevents the mentally ill from seeking help.
3) Victim shaming:
Patients who are diagnosed with mental disorders receive poor treatment from society. It extends beyond gender, caste and religion. They are discriminated against, abused and isolated to an extent that a vicious cycle of shame sets in. The derogatory slurs are so commonly used in Indian households and even in Indian media as a means to insult someone. Indian politicians have been using terms like ‘handicapped,’ ‘schizophrenic.’ There is hatred, disgust, annoyance, anger, fear, apathy but empathy towards these patients. Victim shaming is patriarchal in nature. Women are crucified and abandoned by their families as they can no longer look after the family. They are forcefully thrown into unfacilitated shelter homes where they have to struggle to obtain basic necessities. A 24year old woman from Haryana was kicked out of her parent’s home as she showed symptoms of psychosis after she was gang-raped. Another woman from the Mumbai slums was disowned because she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The unacceptance by their own family makes it difficult for the mentally ill to cope with the burden and from accessing medical help.
4) Lack of resources and funds for research:
India is a country where the majority of the population do not even have access to a toilet and most struggle to find basic amenities like water and food, mental health is almost omitted from the prime concern in the country’s health care system. The disease is often neglected and overlooked. Lack of research allows misdiagnosis or sometimes even leaves the patient undiagnosed since the symptoms are unknown.
5) Untrained professionals and improper medical treatment:
The staff at the asylums or the mental health care are not trained to take proper care instead they are taught to ‘handle’ these patients when they have episodes of epilepsy, mania, etc. They are also underpaid. In India, there are only 3 psychiatrists for every one million citizens. The scarcity of professional mental health care workers is devastating. The doctors and the staff are unequipped to treat most of the patients. They are unable to understand the disease and fail to provide the required attention and care to the patient. There are only 2000 psychiatrists and 5000 psychologists. This further exacerbates the problem. The doctors themselves are victims of the stigma and the ill-treatment that they gaslight their patients when it comes to psychotherapy. The treatment regime is often aimed at silencing the patient, invalidating their struggles and moulding them according to society’s requirement.
6) No official record:
India hasn't done an official surveyor reported official statistics. There is no clarity about the extent of the population suffering from mental disorders or the capital required to provide medical support to those who require it. Time and again fatal illnesses go unnoticed. The absence of official data permits people to remain ignorant.
7) Outdated mental health acts:
The Mental Health Care Act 2017 has been very well established on paper, however, there is poor implementation of this act.
The increased consumption of social media especially by the younger generations puts them at a higher risk of developing mental disorders like anxiety and depression. The Internet is a place where there are no filters about what one can share and what they cannot. There are trends that are addictive, deceiving, fallacious and deceptive that are designed to entrap teens. Nugatory trends where people build cults just to raid someone’s comment section spread hate and encourage “cancel culture.” Social media has turned into an unimaginable, ceaseless negative void. I personally feel inferior, insecure, “uncool,” and have self-doubt and complexity about not being aesthetic enough, not having what the other people pretend to have on social media and it has caused damage to my personality, behaviour, relationships. I am certain that there are millions of other people who feel the same way. There have been instances where Indian media weaponised mental health as a source of promoting propaganda. Unlicensed influencers fooling people into paying them for therapy. Other influencers glamorized mental disorders and used them as an aesthetic by casually slipping into conversations to indicate they were ‘unhappy.’ Movies like Aparichit misrepresented mental illness that aggravated the stigma.
What can be done?
The current situation in India calls for immediate attention to the mental health care system. There have to be sustained efforts by the government, the unaffected and the diseased to bring about a drastic change. The earliest steps need to be taken by the government to direct the public attention towards declining mental health. What lies ahead depends upon the resources being provided for research and funds being diverted to the mental health awareness sectors for education and accessibility to every individual who needs medical intervention.
1) Educate: Public judgement has to be changed to destigmatize mental illness.
Children should be educated from a very young age and innovative awareness campaigns should be conducted in a way that people would be convinced. It will help people see mental illness with the same lens as they view physical disorders.
2) Encourage: Students need to be encouraged to opt for courses related to mental health care.
3) Funding: Government should make investments for the research of mental health and provide facilities for it.
4) Accessible Information: Every individual in need of medical help should have access to the necessary information about how to contact a healthcare facility, commuting expenses, treatment regime and treatment expenses.
5) Common prevention methods: Basic remedies for anxiety should be taught in schools and awareness programmes so that patients can deal with it when they cannot seek medical help.
6) Strict Implementation of the Mental Health Care Act 2017 with appropriate social construct should be brought into action.
7) Mental Health Insurance: Mental disorders should be compulsorily put under the extent of life insurance as it reduces the burden of expensive and unmanageable costs of mental health care.
If you or people around you are struggling with mental illness, don’t feel obliged and ashamed in talking to someone about it. It is completely normal and okay to go through something like that. Your feelings are respected and are valid. If you notice drastic changes in someone you know, be patient and listen to them. For the most part, people suffering from something so overwhelming, confusing and exhaustive just want to be heard and reassured. Be supportive and understanding of their circumstances. Give them space to breathe, think and a safe space to vent. It’s okay to take a break sometimes. My therapist once told me that, “It is difficult to live peacefully when you suffer from a mental illness but it is wearying for people to support, be patient, adjust and love someone suffering from mental illness.”
Here are a few licensed therapists to who you can vent to.
Talk to me NGO
Here is a list of therapists, counsellors, psychiatrists all over India. (source- TISS)
Writer - Charmy Savla
Editor - Hamza Ansari
Illustrations - Shaina Rahman
Graphics - Jhem Picache