Various anecdotes from mental health experts paint a picture of many Indian parents who believe that mental health issues are rubbish, some view them as shameful and an excuse for laziness.
As per World Health Organisation, as of today, India is the most depressed country in the world. At any given point of time, nearly 50 million Indian children suffer from mental disorders, and this number will increase if the adolescent population is considered as well. India has one of the highest suicide rates among those aged 15 to 29 and accounts for over a third of global suicides among women each year.
But stigma remains with many parents worried about 'Log kya kahenge?' and suppress the need for psychological care. Others believe that depression and anxiety are an influence of 'western culture' and don't accept mental illness as a health concern.
Another way to look at it is that parents are often not educated enough about mental health.
I spoke with two young people battling mental health issues. Both say, their diagnosis was hampered by lack of awareness on their parents part.
"I asked my father why didn’t you take me to a doctor at the beginning itself? He simply said because I didn’t know. I didn’t know it’s a psychiatric problem. I just wanted you to get better." - Kushank Negi
I spoke with Kushank Negi was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2012. He only found out about his illness when he reached the paranoia and depression stage. His parents first thought that it's a case of substance abuse and asked his friends if he has been taking drugs. Later his parents brought in spiritual healers to do some 'tantra-mantra' spells to heal him.
After a couple of visits from these 'healers', kushank's condition remained the same, he still didn't move from his bed, there was fear of colours, fear of numbers and anxiety that would lead to tears. His sister’s intervention finally lead to him seeking help from a psychiatrist.
In this case, Kushank's parents were not the only ones who had less to no knowledge about mental illness. He told me that he also didn't know much, all he knew was of depression and it took him 7 years to come to terms with his illness. He tried astrology, hypnosis, rings and gems, pooja-path, etc before he finally accepted that this is a chronic illness and he will have to take medicines and follow a routine to make things right for him. He now has a support group where he helps people coming in terms with their illness, shares what he has learned all these years of battling with his illness and coping with relapses.
"I wouldn’t say mental illness is a dead end. If my mental illness requires me to be a more disciplined and a more tolerant person then I wouldn’t say that it’s an illness. Another way to look at is that it’s a wake-up call for you to become a better person." - Kushank Negi
The second person I spoke with was Akshara Bharat who grew up in Arunachal Pradesh and studied engineering in Madhya Pradesh. A difficult childhood, an alcoholic father, sexual abuse, and a conflict of ideas when it came to her parents meant she grew up to be an anxious child. Her anxiety was further compounded by the pressure to pursue science.
"“It all became worse when I entered college. In the first year, I realised that everything is falling apart and going in the wrong direction. Things got worse when I came to Delhi. There was a time when for weeks I didn’t step out of the room. That’s when my boyfriend got worried and dragged me to a therapist and I was diagnosed with clinical depression.”" - Akshara Bharat
While in college, she didn't get support from her parents. Whenever she spoke about her problems with her parents, they negated her condition. They asked her not to act weak. That's why for one year she didn't tell her parents about her therapy and her condition. Akshara says that her parents view her depression as laziness when she puts on weight and weakness when she cries.
"“If I tell them that I have a cold, they ask me to take medicine. But when I tell them that I amsuffering from anxiety, why do they ask me to control it?”" - Akshara Bharat
Both Kushank and Akshara have been suicidal but with the help of cognitive behaviour therapy, they have learned ways to dodge such negative thoughts.
Wherever you read on the internet about mental illness, one solution that flashes everywhere is 'Communication'. I hope parents also listen to this podcast because this is a small attempt to create awareness, start conversations. Toss the taboo and talk. Your kid is not pagal or sad or sick. It's normal, all you need to do listen to them without judgment. Also, for people battling with such disorders need to keep an open mind and accept their mental state. Learn more, talk more and share more.
(If you feel despair or if you know someone who needs help, guide them to this list of state-wise credible mental health professionals collated by healthcollective.in)
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