Coming from a middle-class family in India, I understood the interrelation of faith and mental health recently. My family consists of a religious mother who isn’t bothered if I make fun of her gods, a father who is agnostic and who changes his stances as frequently as it suits him.
I became an atheist after I realised I might be gay and every religion makes it punitive to be in my position. The thing is, coming from a socially conservative family, I could never dream of coming out to them. So, I was silently struggling with myself. Being an introvert didn’t help. I could never make friends and discuss my struggles.
After struggling so much, my doctor prescribed me medication for my anxiety. Through the internet, I became fully aware of the struggles faced by people having anxiety attacks and depression which could bring about so many bad days. I was struggling to even work at my job.
My therapist (while I was studying in the USA) had helped me a lot in coping with my problems. All I can say is that my therapist saved my life and I will remain indebted to her all my life. I still struggle and have not come out. I came to this beautiful realisation how religions have been used as mass psychiatry for third world countries where the struggles of getting help for mental health are two-fold.
First, there is a huge stigma for all kinds of mental health problems in India. I can’t stress enough how people will keep on struggling with such problems all their lives rather than accept the harsh truth that they are suffering from mental health issues.
Second, the lack of awareness in our country regarding mental health meant that all my experiences in India with psychologists and psychiatrists were extremely tumultuous.
So, I can’t blame all the people going to religious places when there is no scope for getting any mental health services. My mom takes all of the jokes I make about her gods in a good way since I tease her with all kinds of logical questions. But with all the history of misogynistic abuse she has taken all her life, I think religious places give her hope and peace – something we all deserve.
Sadly, I go through phases of sadness quite often and once I tried sitting with her in our own house temple (a small room filled with idols of deities and incense). Now, I usually never ask for help from anyone other than my own therapist. That day was different. The atheist in me was tired of all the bullshit. I wish I were a cheerful nihilist, but no, my nihilism was strongly pessimistic, full of jokes, relating to death and suicide.
I don’t know how this should be perceived but crying for help to the invisible non-existent person in the sky felt so peaceful to me. I don’t know whether it was the comfort of my mother sitting beside me or something else. But rarely do I get to feel as peaceful as I did when I was asking for help from the invisible gods. Living in a small town, with nothing at my disposal, this seemed pretty soothing to me. This in no way discounts the benefits of mental health services.
The few messages I drew from this episode are:
This pride month, my shout out goes to all LGBTQ people and others who suffer from any mental health related illness. Power to all you people.