Updated: Sep 23, 2020
“Wait it out, it’s just a phase”
“Don’t act crazy just take some time off everything will be fine”
“What will people think?”
These are some of the things we get to hear when we try to speak up about mental health issues, be it depression, anxiety, or even just wanting someone to hear us out. On the other hand, this is what you would hear if you complained of a physical ailment:
“Where exactly is it hurting let me help you”
“For how long has it been paining?”
“You should go to the doctor, let me make an appointment for you.”
Needless to say, India is still on the back-end of addressing mental health problems. While most of it is due to a lack of proper education, a major barrier to getting professional help is the stigma associated with mental disorders. This stigma is carried forward in a vicious cycle of shame surrounding anything that is deemed “abnormal” or “crazy” by society and the subsequent isolation of the person undergoing distress. Although terms like “depression”, “anxiety” and “panic attacks” have slowly begun to see the light of day in the past few years, they are still highly misrepresented. A person with depression does not have to be crying the whole day and anxiety is not a way to get people’s attention, and even once a person is diagnosed with a mental disorder, like depression, saying “he didn’t look like he was depressed” is clearly no way to dismiss a problem.
A study by the World Health Organization revealed that only 10% of patients in India get treatment for mental health problems, while a survey conducted by NIMHANS showed that while 150 million Indians require mental health intervention, only 30 million of them have access to such care. In addition to this, there is also a shortage of funds allocated to mental health in India accounting for a mere 0.05% of the total health care budget. Another widespread problem in the country is professionals incorrectly diagnosing patients thereby getting in their way of gaining the correct treatment and intervention.
While the countrywide scenario looks bleak, it is important to understand that change starts with you and me. A person with a disorder will never come and label their problem but it always shows up in small ways. So, look out for people who say they feel like a burden, or when you hear “I can’t take it anymore”. Check-in with people who’ve been saying “It’s just a bad day” for the past week, the colleague who hasn’t shown up to work or the straight-A student whose grades have dropped. Many times, we don’t realize that it is us who make it hard for people to seek professional help with our judgment and labels. We blame society but we are society. The next time you spot the signs, it’s only fair to say “You should see a therapist, let me make an appointment for you”, and you just may be the one to turn a life around.