Rethinking mental health in India

Human mind is a marvel of chemical reactions and neural impulses which makes a human a conscious and intelligent being. Human race is the most advanced among all the existing species on earth, or arguably, the whole universe. Our fast paced technological successes have eliminated few diseases from the face of earth; have medications for once life-threatening illnesses; and also have active research to find cure those which we are not yet able conquer. And yet, mental health in India is a gray area of discussion. While a majority of people sympathise the ones with severe disorders such as schizophrenia while deeming them as mad, on the other end the common illnesses such as anxiety disorder or depression are met with comic yet condescending tone of “you’re just pretending” or “snap out of it”. When it is an issue with the thinking tank of the body, our conscience refuses to accept that something could go wrong with it; we fail to see the simple logic here: the mind or the brain is also an organ like any other in the body and is very much vulnerable to being affected with an illness.

These illnesses range from chemical imbalances causing depression to severe conditions like psychosis or schizophrenia. Sometimes these illnesses are caused due to psychological factors just as other illnesses of body are sometimes due to some physiological factors like bad diet choices. In a similar way the medications can range from therapy to a combination of therapy and medication.

If a person suffers from mental illness, it is in first place, hard for him/her to accept the diagnosis. It primarily stems from the innate belief that nothing can be wrong with their mind and a secondary stigma of the mental illness diagnosis in the society. Another factor which may affect is the misdiagnosis in some cases, which again is due to the complex nature of mental illnesses and their categorisation.

A student’s suicide earlier this year initiated a debate over the incident. Some realized the urgency of discussing severe implications of mental illnesses and some others were blaming the student for being so weak or stupid to kill himself. A show which was intended to highlight mental health awareness, 13 Reasons Why has been notoriously popularized for romanticizing the illness instead by attempting to martyr the protagonist who committed suicide in the series. Reports show that it triggered suicidal thoughts in a few borderline victims. Another apparent “online challenge” nicknamed The Blue Whale Challenge has been claimed to prey on mentally weak children and drive them to suicide.

When a mental health condition such as depression is terminally leading the victims to suicide, it is of utmost importance to sensitize the society on its awareness and its implications. It is of high necessity because, though it is a severely debilitating illness for some, it can be managed and controlled through therapy and medication, thereby enabling the individuals to again be contributing members of the society. So is the case with other severe mental illnesses. WHO reports that “Close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year and there are many more who attempt suicide. Hence, many millions of people are affected or experience suicide bereavement every year. Suicide occurs throughout the lifespan and is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally.”

The most pertinent issue it to accept without questioning that mental illnesses do exist and that they are as real as cancer or heart disease. People can debate all about why some cowardly teen committed suicide, but it is extremely rude to make a mockery about mental illnesses because there is a high chance of them being a terminal health issue if untreated.

The subject of mental health requires a monumental awareness to help millions of people suffering from it. Every citizen should be equipped with tools to understand and identify mental health state of themselves, their friends and family, and other members of society. This will create a network of helping minds across the country. Sensitizing the issue will immensely help the victims of mental illnesses to seek help without being ashamed of it. TED has a vast collection of talks on journey of people living and coping with mental illnesses through required care. These are an assurance for us that people with mental illnesses are not mad or crazy, but just people with illness who need treatment.

So when a coworker even jokes about killing themselves, pay a heed to their warnings, ask them if they want to talk about it because “joking about killing themselves” is not something mentally healthy people would do. Look out for signs of depression or anxiety disorders by educating yourself first and extending that help to those who need it. Suggest them to go to a psychologist or a psychiatrist and be ready to be there for them if required. If someone of your friends or family has trouble of extreme moods, may be it is time to acknowledge their mental condition and suggesting help rather than calling them crazy or mad. If someone complains they see or imagine things or hear voices in their head, suggest them to go to a doctor; don’t deem them mad. Be sensitive to those around you. Understand and learn the triggers and symptoms. Help if you can. Spending time to mock someone for their mental illness is easy; but staying with them through is what makes us human.

Please educate yourself about mental health issues, it is very real and terrifying.

Look out for signs and symptoms of mental health issues:

If you think someone is in danger of suicide or requires immediate attention on their mental health contact aasra: (24×7 Helpline: 91-22-27546669)

Learn how to support if you know that your friend or family member is suffering with mental illness:

With proper therapy, medication and a support group mental illnesses are sometimes curable and every time completely manageable. Let us DO this and become a nation of empathetic citizens enabling everyone to be their best selves.

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