Today at school, Priya (named changed for privacy) – a friend of mine – and I did not go down for our morning assembly.
The reason? I am currently recovering from a ligament reconstruction surgery in my right knee, and it takes a lot of effort to go down to the hall. There is a constant danger of being pushed by someone in the crowd. My reason was considered valid. A physical injury made others sympathise with me.
Priya had not gone down because crowds make her nauseous. Humans suffocate her. The walls of the hall, forceful exercises, a teacher bellowing into the microphone, the fear of judgement – these scare her, they make her shake. She wasn’t so lucky. A teacher reprimanded her, took her to the hall, and later, when Priya said that she was having mental health issues, the teacher said something along the lines of, “Psychiatrist and all, it’s in your head, it’s all a pretence.”
My intention behind writing this post is not defaming the teacher or the institution I am proudly a part of. The point I intend to make is that depression, anxiety and other mental health issues are scary. It’s something that has no physical manifestation. It can’t be seen, and often times, neither can it be diagnosed properly, owing to its highly shifting characteristics. Having gone through it myself, I can’t even begin to describe the horror of sleepless nights due to overthinking, followed by mornings when the brain is too tired to think.
Yes, I get it. Mental health issues cannot be used as an excuse for getting out of work. However, if ‘stomach ache’, ‘headache’, and physical injuries can be counted as valid reasons to call in ‘sick’, then mental health issues should be allowed to as well. Now, the reason they aren’t, is that mental health problems do not have a clear-cut and dry manifestation, and thus, it is not possible to clearly find a solution to the problem.
But there are some things you could do. For instance, don’t undermine anybody’s problems. Don’t tell a child with high-school problems that their problems aren’t big enough because there are kids in the world who can’t go to school. Don’t tell a child with social anxiety that they are weak, because another child is a confident public speaker. Don’t tell someone with anxiety that their problems are less in magnitude because someone has a visible injury. When a boy cries, don’t tell him to ‘man-up’. Don’t call him weak and remind him that it’s worse for someone else. Don’t call someone ‘crazy’ for wanting a bit more of your attention.
When someone you love asks you whether you hate them, don’t laugh at them for overthinking. Assure them, again and again, that you will be there for them. And mean it.
It’s not just Priya who goes through this every day. It’s not just the teacher who is insensitive towards a mental health problem. It’s you. It’s me. It’s everyone. Existence is already hard enough. Lend a hand. Hug, hold, behold, help. And laugh.