Last week, I was on a hospital bed getting my stomach washed. A few hours before I had taken a lethal quantity of tablets to end my life. Luckily, I survived to tell my story. Why did I take the decision to kill my own self? What compelled me to take such a fatal path? Had I failed in the exams? Had my partner ditched me? The answer is no. The more I interrogate myself with these questions, the more I find myself confounded. The truth is I don’t know why I wanted to die, but I know how I reached that dark corner of life where only hopelessness was my companion. The thing I called ‘dark corner’ was a panic attack I could not cope up with.
I am a depressed teenager with high dreams and lofty ambitions. I am a coolie carrying the burden of expectations of this society, my family and my own self. I have been fighting a war of nerves for many years now. I was 16 when the shrinks at the hospital declared that I was bipolar, which means I am suffering from manic-depressive illness. The disease has its own vicissitudes – I am happy sometimes, and often, I take a long trip to the valley of gloom. Mostly, I don’t have a yen for eating anything. I often feel like giving up everything and running away from my own self.
I have no qualms in saying that I am mentally unwell, but the society has. It was evening time when I was brought to the hospital by one of my friends. I was quivering while my abdomen was toxic enough to kill me. Here started the story of whispers and favourable lies. Except the medics, few of my friends and family, everyone was told a made-up story of how the tablets accidently entered my belly. Some were told I had gastro problems. No one was told the truth that in the surge of my stigmatized illness I had attempted self-murder. Why? Because had they known the real account of my doing, my future was doomed. In our society, mental illness is not treated at par with other illnesses.
We are the outcasts of this civilized world. People will show sympathy towards us but then talk ill behind our backs. Very few will understand. You can’t talk openly about your health because then they would have only one line for you — He is mental! He is a psycho! Wo Pagal hai! Yes, I am weak and suffer from a disease that is related to the mind. But I didn’t choose my illness, then why punish me for what is not in my control?
In a country where there is only one psychiatrist for a whopping 343,000 people, silence is the hallmark of any mental health disease. There is a silent majority which continues to suffer because of the stigma we have attached with mental health related disorders. There is a need for greater awareness to destigmatize mental illnesses. The National Mental Health Policy, launched this year, is certainly a first step towards that.
I survived to tell my tale, but there are thousands who succumb on that hospital bed without even knowing that their condition could have improved and there was no need to hide their condition. Let’s speak up and end the stigma that enforces this lethal silence.
The author is a student of journalism and wishes to remain anonymous.