Asia-Pacific, India, Human Rights

Mental Health Stigma in India: Shhh! Don’t Tell Anyone!

I wake up to screams every morning. Screams of a little girl, age 9. She is an autistic child, living right across the street from me. If you look at her, you would not think she has any problems. Go deep into her life; you will find the reality of her mental health.

The reality of how difficult it is for her to go through menial tasks every day. How difficult it is to draw a straight line with a ruler. How difficult it is to tell the doctor where it pains the most. The reality of how she cannot go out alone to ride her bicycle, like other children.

Manya is one of the many children and adults who suffer from mental health problems.

Mental Health: She is Not the Only One

In India, there are more than seven crore (70 million) people, who are mentally ill. Most of these people are concentrated in the major cities. The metropolitan areas.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), 13.7 percent people in India are suffering from different mental health disorders. While 10.6 percent of them require immediate medical intervention.

According to a WHO report, 60 million Indians, which is way more than the total population of South Africa, are suffering from mental disorders of different kinds.

Of all the mental health disorders, 10-20 million currently have Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. This contributes to approximately two percent of the population. About 50 million of the people have suffered from various other mental health disorders like Depression and Anxiety. The data available is from the 2005 National Commission on Macroeconomics and Health Report. This data was laid on the table of the Lok Sabha in 2016. Yes, that is the state of my country. Who knows how much more has been added to this data since then.

How is Mental Health Treated in India?

Well, not at all actually. Of all the resources and wealth in India, only 0.06% is being spent on mental health. Bangladesh spends 0.44%. While most developed nations spend over 4 percent. If we look at the psychiatric help, there are approximately 0.3 psychiatrists for every 100,000 people.

The wealthiest Asian of 2017, according to Forbes is from India, yet the mental health spending of the country is 0.06 percent.

What about Depression and Anxiety?

Not very long ago, in 2011, India had the highest rate of depression. Today, when I look around me, myself included, people are depressed. Even at my home. People go about their own lives, personally and professionally, as if nothing is wrong. They do not seek help. They do not admit or talk about things.

I remember meeting my best friend in 2012 when I started college. She was the happiest person I knew. Recently, anxiety and depression took her happiness away. She now just goes about her life, looking for something she does not know. Trying to find it in places where she is unable to.

Last year, I was at my lowest as well. Nothing worked out for me. An avid reader, I did not even want to pick up a new book to read. I wanted to sleep and smoke all the time. When I came out to some of my friends about my condition, I was ridiculed. I was the basis of many jokes for months.

This is the state of people in India towards mental health.

There is a Stigma Attached!

India is a paradox as far as mental health is concerned. The Indian culture, which emphasizes enlightenment and spiritualism, taboos mental health. Probably because Indians are obsessed with status. Their social status and their hierarchical status must never be affected. To have some mental illness is often seen as a blot on their and their family’s status. This can also lead to problems in your career and your marriage prospects. Above all. It is a blot on your family!

To not be mentally healthy could even cause you a divorce until 1976! Therefore, to protect their family and loved ones, people are left and abandoned in the psychiatric care facilities. Here, instead of being helped, they are treated worse than animals.

Their Plight

An unemployed young man committed suicide a few years back. He was depressed and hung himself. He was on medication, and people knew about it. Instead of being concerned about such a man, people including my grandmother said things like this: “he was retarded, he went to mental doctors. He killed himself because he went crazy.”

Among Indians, there is this notion that people should not talk about mental health. Children like Manya should not have been born according to them. They are now a burden on their family. It goes to these extents that people in many parts of the country tie their mentally ill children to lamp-posts and trees while they go out to work. They simply do it to keep them “safe” at home. So they do not run away. People take them to temples and mosques to get them “treated.” People do not take their loved ones to doctors and psychiatrists to help them. A priest is enough for them!

It is not just the people who are not willing to take their loved ones to doctors for medical attention; it is the people who suffer as well. Because of the stigma attached to mental health, many people who want to seek help do not. Simply because they do not want to be considered as making an “issue” out of “nothing.”

People judge, People ridicule, People discriminate.

I am 24 years old, and I have not met one person who wants to talk to me about mental health. All they have to say is “Chalta rehta hai yaar” which translates to “It happens to everyone. It keeps going on. Or simply put “chill out!”

The stigma affects people in India in many ways. Because of this stigma, people are isolated, they are excluded from daily activities. They have issues with the progress in their professional lives.

In fact, many of their family members, immediate and related, often stop these people from seeking help. Merely because they do not want to be judged by society. This leads to a delay in getting treated and their eventual recovery. This also leads to physical health issues for many.

I have been around many people with mental health issues. People like myself and my best friend who have been victims of depression and anxiety. And people like Manya, who have other severe mental health issues. I have only noticed one thing – all these people want is to not be judged by the society.

All they need is care and affection. All they need is warm hands holding them. They don’t just need medical attention, but “approval” from our society.

About Saumya Khanduja

A cat lover, a book lover, and a beach lover: Saumya is all shades of being human. A sociology graduate from India, who spends most of her time writing. Outside the realm of the web, she loves cooking, sketching, and listening to the cello. A Game Of Thrones enthusiast, she might be small, but can "slay" you!

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