What It Means to Have Mental Health Disorders in India

‘It’s so common, it could be anyone. The trouble is nobody wants to talk about it. And that makes everything worse’~ Ruby Wax

‘I suffer from depression’. There I said it! But ssshhhh most of my relatives and even some of my friends or colleagues don’t know about it. Why? Because it’s still not okay in most communities, especially in India, to openly accept that one suffers from mental health conditions.

According to a study published by National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), 1 in 20 individuals suffer from chronic depression while another report by Indiaspends states that 60 million Indians suffer from one form of mental health disorder or another. However, in spite of such startling figures, openly talking about one’s mental health disorders in the Indian society is still a taboo. Anyone suffering from a mental health disorders, irrespective of whether it depression, anxiety or schizophrenia, is invariably deemed as ‘MAD’ in most parts of the Indian.

So what really is mental health?

Mental health simply put refers to the psychological, emotional and social well-being of a person. Our psychosocial and emotional health has a great impact on how we think, feel and it act. It also influences how we react to a situation, handle stress and anxiety and also our choices. So without a sound mental health, one can’t effectively go about his/her day activities. Yet mental health conditions and disorders are still widely neglected across the world, but especially in India.

Even today, most people find it extremely uncomfortable to talk about their mental health conditions owing to the stigma associated with it. A person with a mental health condition is often thought to be ‘crazy’ and so who really wants to be associated with a crazy person? It is only when a person decides to end his/her life owing to their difficulties in coping with stresses and disappointments, do their families take cognisance of the adverse effect of mental health conditions on one’s overall well-being and their ability to reason and cope with their frustration and despondency with life.

Arjun Bharadwaj, a 24-year-old management student, committed suicide by jumping out of a 19th-floor hotel room in Mumbai in May, 2017. Media reports suggested that Arjun had been depressed about his failure in exams and repeatedly talked about ending his life on social media.

Arjun’s story made the national headlines – possibly because he killed himself at a reputed hotel and also because he discussed in detail about ending his life, on Facebook – but his story is no exception. Every hour, one student commits suicide in India, according to 2015 data (the latest available) from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). Yet most people, especially adolescents and young adults, who often suffer from mild to chronic depression are reluctant to seek help before it’s too late for fear of being misunderstood, stigmatised or even completely shunned. Lack of awareness among the common masses further aggravates the problem.

Signs of Suicide in Youth that Parents Should Not Ignore

So what problems does one face (more often than not) if they openly acknowledge or share on their mental health conditions in India?

  • Inability to find proper employment, especially in the government or corporate sector. (Logic: Who wants to hire a person who can’t handle stress, has anxiety issues or suffers from depression?)
  • Inability to find a proper partner. (Logic: Who wants to date/marry a person who may just be ‘crazy’.
  • Inability to receive proper and timely treatment for mental health disorders/conditions. (Logic: One should go to a doctor mostly for physical ailments because a ‘normal person’s’ mind never gets ill.)
  • Falling Victim to Superstition (Logic: A person with chronic mental health disorders-such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder-especially in rural areas, is often believed to be possessed by evil spirits. Hence they are more likely to be taken to a priest than a psychiatrist)
  • Inability to access quality mental health facilities. Hospitals or mental health care centres are mostly concentrated in cities and big towns. 80% of medical care available for mental health is in the private sector, which is usually expensive. (Logic: Mental Health disorders are usually believed to be an ailment of the ‘rich’.)

Voices In Their Heads: How India deals with Mental Disorders

Depression, anxiety, stress, suicide – these conditions are have become common in India, both in the urban cities and rural villages and are highlighted flippantly by the media, in cinema, and at times in casual conversations. However, the seriousness of mental health conditions is rarely comprehended by the common masses. This is essentially owing to the lack of awareness and also the failure to understand that our mind needs as much care as body and hence mental health is as important as physical health. I guess most of us also tend to overlook the fact that our MIND is also a part of our BODY!

So, the next time someone in your family or a loved one shows symptoms of being unusually low and completely detached, is too stressed or has a tendency to self harm, please do pay heed and take them to a psychiatrist. Believe me when I say this that their unexpressed emotions will never really go away or die. They will remain buried for the time being but will come forth later on in much uglier and sadder ways…

Mental Health Care Bill Passed in Parliament: All you need to know in 10 points

Mental Health Care Act, 2017

India Suicide Hotlines