By Sakshi Goenka:
It was three years ago when I first started experiencing days when I felt uncontrollably low and helpless. I felt oppressed because of my mind – and I was not able to put a finger on where it stemmed from. It’s one thing to be unable to handle something, and it’s a completely different matter to fight when you’re not aware of what it is, and have no clue what to name it.
Even today, a lot of schools and other educational institutions don’t educate their students on what mental health is, and how frequently people go through such crises. On the flip side, the indifference towards mental health issues has led to people trivialising them – and casually slipping the related terminology into their conversations without being careful of their intent or intensity.
It took me a lot of effort and hours on the internet to understand that my bouts of anxiety and sadness were indeed mental health issues – and that they needed to be addressed. It also made me realise how oblivious we all are to these problems. The stigma comes from a lack of conversation, and not the other way round. While educating myself about it and trying to cope with it, one of the most difficult issues was dismissed by the people around me. I felt completely out of place and without any space, having nobody to confide in initially, while also trying to tell people the importance of not using psychological terms out of context.
For example, using terms like ‘OCD’ to express your love for arrangement and color schemes invalidates an actual disorder. Being bipolar isn’t just about being indecisive or having a few mood swings. There is a lot of depth attached to words like ‘depressed’, ‘antisocial’, ‘disabled’, ‘schizophrenic’ or ‘abnormal’ – and it’s not cool to use any of these without knowing their actual significance. The careless usage of such terms makes it difficult for people suffering from such ailments to talk about them. Even worse, using words like ‘nuts’, ‘mental’, ‘freak’, ‘retarded’, ‘demented’ or ‘psychotic’ as slurs leads to a belief that having mental health issues is something to be looked down upon or something to be ashamed of, which further promotes the stigma.
What’s more important to acknowledge here is the need to consider professional help once we notice a significant shift in our behavior, and an inability to cope with it ourselves. Hence, it becomes extremely necessary that we do not demean someone who may be trying to reach out, when we’re talking about mental health or using the related terms. Our indifference shouldn’t shame someone into suffering in silence. We need to be allies for each other, and not turn our backs away when someone chooses to be vulnerable. It’s our duty to teach ourselves to monitor our behavior and unlearn responses that can hurt a person’s sentiments or worsen the situation they may be facing. Don’t make it difficult for someone to own up to their battles, and don’t expect them to simply ‘get over it’.
To be more thoughtful and compassionate, we must learn to empathise. We must be accepting and be ready for corrective measures. We should call each other out and work on building a more safe space for everyone. Only then will we be equipped enough to sail through the rough seas – and bravely too!
The author is a volunteer with Invisible Illness.