The Uncensored Reality of Mental Health in India

As defined by the American Psychological Association, mental health involves effective functioning in daily activities, resulting in productive activities (work, school, caregiving), healthy relationships, the ability to adapt to change and cope with adversity. In other words, “mental health refers to our emotional, psychological and social well-being”. Thus, the state of our mental health influences the type of everyday activities we indulge in and our reactions to different situations.

In a country like India, where ‘log kya kahenge‘ (what will people say) dictates almost every decision made by its citizens, the sad reality is that the concept of ‘mental health’ is not readily accepted. But, whether we admit it or not, it exists. 

According to a high majority of people, mental health is not a legitimate phenomenon; it is instead an excuse that is used by people to mask their laziness and unaccountability. An ancient theory suggests that people used to associate mental health disorders with supernatural and magical forces. They believed that erratic behavior was a result of possession by evil spirits (bhoot-pret) or the devil (shaitan). Thus, to cure the same, they used to contact exorcists and not professional psychiatrists or psychologists. 

One must think that this kind of belief had been restricted to the ancient generation, but the unfortunate reality is that such beliefs persist and are very common amongst Indians. It turns out, we expanded and evolved technologically but forgot to unlearn, learn and grow, ourselves.  

It is super puzzling to me how easily society accepts a physical disorder like diabetes which results from a lack of a hormone called insulin. However, they refuse to even acknowledge any mental illness like depression which is due to a lack of a hormone called serotonin.  

According to a survey conducted in 2016 by NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences), nearly 9.8 million young Indians (age ranging from 13 to 17 years) need active Interventions. As reported by the WHO (World Health Organisation), India accounts for nearly 15% of the global mental, neurological, and substance abuse disorder burden.

I can’t help but wonder about how many years is it still going to take for us to stop mislabelling people with mental health issues and start giving them the recognition and help that they deserve.

The current situation in India is such that family members take offense at the thought or even suggestion of therapy. “Come talk to us; we are your friends”, is a line very commonly used by people (family in particular). What they do not realize is that they can only advise the person to chill, take less stress, less tension, not to overthink. (I am sure that you must have personally heard at least one of these from your peers or recommended this to someone). What I’m trying to say is that, though this acts as an essential pillar to keep our spirits high, it is not sufficient to help out a person in the long run. The lack of information and also misinformation might lead to unintended damage and might trigger the person more. 

Society seems to be oscillating between two extremely toxic beliefs. Either they refuse to accept any mental health issues, or they label the person as paagal (mad).  The data from the National Mental Health Survey suggests that nearly 150 million Indians need mental health care services, while only 30 million are seeking care. 

Due to the stigma that surrounds mental health issues, four in five people suffering from severe mental health issues in India choose not to treat it because of which it causes early death by at least 15-20 years as compared to mentally healthy people. According to the experts, the mental doctor-patient ratio in India is one doctor for three lakh patients. (Source- NDTV)

It is high time that we educate ourselves regarding mental health issues and be empathetic towards people. In my opinion, the way schools teach us subjects like science and mathematics to help us make sense of the world; they should also teach basic level psychology to increase awareness and thus, help us make sense of our own (and others) emotions.

We need to start normalizing seeking help (in the form of therapy etc.) and stop alienating those who need help. 

People with mental health issues are ordinary people. With proper assistance, they can be capable of easily performing everyday activities.

Empathy and kindness is the only way forward. 

I guess, it’s time to be a better  human.

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