7 Things That Opened My Eyes To The Grim Reality Of Mental Health In India

Posted by Siddhant Nag in #LetsTalk, Events, Mental Health, Society
April 17, 2017

It is estimated that 1 in 20 Indians is living with depression in India. Yet, mental health is something we rarely talk about. Stigmatised to an extent that people fail to identify mental health issues, and hesitate to seek help, it is a subject that needs to be brought into everyday conversation.

To this end, Youth Ki Awaaz and the World Health Organisation organised #LetsTalk, an event to break the silence around depression and address the issue in a helpful, sensitive, informative manner. With over 150 people from all walks of life in attendance, the event kickstarted with a powerful spoken word poetry session performed by Delhi-based group, Bring Back The Poets, followed by a panel discussion with mental health professionals, wellness counsellors, and therapists, which finally gave way to an interactive question and answer session.

Insightful, thought-provoking and engaging, I was emceeing at the event, and took away a number of important lessons from it:

1. The Emotion-Inducing Impact Of Spoken Word Poetry

The introductory spoken word poetry session gave the audience a first-hand experience of how raw and powerful the medium of poetry really is, especially to navigate sensitive issues. During the recital, Aditi Angiras (Founder) and Himel Sarkar from Bring Back the Poets, along with prominent poets Arshmeen Baveja and Shreyasi Sharma brought in their unique style and flow, intertwined with personal experiences and opinions that told heartfelt stories of internal turmoil.

2. You Don’t Need To Undergo Trauma Yourself To Help Someone Heal

A recurring theme during the panel discussion was that the first step towards helping someone heal begins with lending an ear and listening to an individual who’s under duress, allowing the person suffering to share their experiences without judgement.

Encouraging professional help is important, too, but equally important is to help individuals seek the right kind of professional help. For instance, Akshay Bajaj, who was previously diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder, spoke about meeting an insensitive counsellor who couldn’t diagnose him. “I felt like if an expert can’t understand what’s going on with me, who will?”

Dr Aditi Kaul, Arts-based Therapist at Fortis Healthcare, had words of comfort, however, “You can shop, you can visit as many doctors/professionals until you find someone who you feel is the right fit.”

3. There’s A Dearth Of Mental Health Professionals In India – 300% To Be Exact

Another important insight thrown up was that there is a supreme dearth of mental health professionals in the country, as well as of spaces, institutes and centres, to address mental health issues. In 2014, it was estimated that India had 1 psychiatrist for every 200,000 patients; a number which has steadily increased since. Given that the issue is a glaring one in the Indian context, this begs immediate government and policy level intervention.

4. The LGBT+ Community Needs Safe Spaces To Discuss Mental Health Issues

We rarely talk about how marginalised communities experience issues with varied intensity. Manavi Khurana, Founder, Karma Centre for Counselling and Wellbeing, gave special focus to mental health issues among India’s Queer community and how few centres exist that have expertise in dealing with this.

Adding to this crucial discussion, Akshat Nauriyal, Co-Founder St+art Foundation and director of the film ‘Meet Naina’, spoke about his experiences working with a young transgender teenager – Naina, and issues of additional ostracisation of the transgender community and how it leads to an increased likelihood of mental health illnesses.

With such issues on the rise, it is imperative that enabling equal access to affordable, sensitive and non-judgmental health care is made a priority.

5. There’s Always Hope. Suicide Is Never The Solution.

Ajay Malhotra, a volunteer from Sumaitri (a suicide helpline), aptly compared the crisis intervention centre to a pressure valve that allows you to vent your feelings and thoughts, to prevent aggravation of your condition and suicide ideation.

With the number of suicides in India on the rise, it is evident that we’re falling behind on providing timely intervention. Moreover, with so much stigma around the issue, cases of extreme depression go undetected. The first step towards suicide prevention is to be able to give hope to those suffering and let them know that suicide isn’t the solution- seeking treatment is.

6. We Routinely Overlook People With Disabilities When We Talk About Mental Health

During the question and answer session, a member of the audience spoke about how the deaf and mute community often faces difficulties with regard to accessibility every day, especially communications with healthcare professionals. Mental health care, which in any case sees an extremely low patient-doctor ratio, has even fewer professionals that can communicate with sign language, creating a deficit beyond comprehension. The astute observation brings to mind the need to address accessibility for people with disabilities when we talk about improving mental health care.

7. Mental Health is a stigma created by us. It can be dispelled by us.

Most of all, the event brought to light the fact that stigma around mental illnesses exists because of a large amount of restriction we place on talking about certain topics and subjects – while it’s okay to talk about a broken rib, it’s not okay to talk about depression. I realised in that room, with so many experiences, opinions and stories being shared, that it’s a problem that we have created for ourselves, and we ourselves hold the key to break the shackles and remove the apprehension from our immediate environment.