“Why can’t we speak about mental health like the way we talk about headaches,” ask some of the leading doctors of India who say that a section of Indian society still stigmatises mental illness and raises their eyebrows whenever someone talks about it.
“We still tend to maintain that mental illness stems from weakness. We are taught from childhood that weakness in any form is unacceptable. While physical illness comes with understanding and concern, mental illness comes with raised eyebrows and a subtle message that you are not strong enough to cope with life challenges. It’s considered as a taboo in India because of the usual scare, ‘Log kya kahenge?’ or ‘What will people say?’,” Rahul Khemani, Consultant Psychiatrist in Wockhardt Hospital, Mira Road told Opoyi.
A person with mental illness is stigmatised and often not a preferred choice for a job or accepted by the society, says doctor Santosh Bangar, Consultant- Psychiatrist at Global Hospital
“One of the main reasons mental illness is considered a taboo is because of discrimination and judgment by others. Common myths are that if one suffers from mental illness it is considered as a mental weakness. Also, these vulnerable people are subject to various types of abuse. This is in stark contrast to physical illness where the sufferer is open and often encouraged to share their illness,” Bangar told Opoyi and says that it is important to understand that person with mental illness needs a listening ear and a compassionate and supportive social network.
So, what is the need of the hour? Normalize it, says Khemani.
“Speak up and speak out! At the individual level, initiate the conversation about your mental health struggles. Normalize it, that speaking about it is as easy as talking about headaches. Educate yourself about depression, anxiety, and don’t negate others’ struggles because they are different from yours. At an institutional level, we need to have more doctors and mental health professionals to fulfill the need. There needs to be sensitization across institutions about these topics,” said Khemani.
Also, one needs to understand that not every person suffering from mental or physical illness may be comfortable sharing their difficulties and this is a matter of personal choice.
“One can only encourage them to speak up and not force them to share their mental health journey. Having an inclusive, supportive, warm, and friendly approach may help in gaining the trust of that individual. Many organizations have started accepting people with mental illness and ensuring such an environment. This will in fact improve the prognosis of their illness and help with self-esteem. Confidentiality must be maintained at all times, said Banger.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has a certain criterion for a diagnosis of Clinical depression and that includes a feeling of sadness, loss of enjoyment of previously pleasurable activities and loss of energy without an identifiable physical cause are the core features.
The associated features also include loss (or excess) of sleep, loss (or excess) appetite, decreased libido, loss of concentration, staying aloof, poor personal care, and having thoughts of self-harm or attempting suicide. People may also experience guilt feelings or feel worthless. A person with clinical depression may also indulge in excessive consumption of alcohol or smoking.
Talking about patients, what all they can do to keep themselves away from negativity.
Shatarupa C, Counselling Psychologist and Expressive Arts Based Therapist at DocVita, suggests a few steps.
- Fixing your routine around sleep/diet.
- Talk to people about how you feel: If that feels uncomfortable because you’re not sure how you feel – journal using prompts (such as – I feel happy when …), make art to express how you feel etc.
- Sometimes it’s okay not to be okay: Take a little break from whatever is causing the most stress. Spend a couple of days doing what you love and relax. Without any guilt.
- Call friends or family over or go meet them: If a social gathering seems overwhelming, just have a couple of them come and do their own thing next to you. Having a company that understands that you may not have the most amount of energy right now and that’s okay is important. Be with people who allow you to just be for some time.
- Access professional help: Don’t diagnose yourself. Mental health doesn’t only mean depression. There could be a differential diagnosis and it’s best to get an expert’s opinion on what’s happening and what to do.