This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Abuzar Tabassum. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

How I Helped Abram To Overcome The Social Stigma Of Mental Illness And Emotional Abuse

More from Abuzar Tabassum

He is a young man in his mid 20’s whose name is Abram (name changed). He is an introvert and very shy, but he is a very hard working and honest man. He loved a girl but could not marry her because he was not in a so-called “reputed” job as per our society. He was carrying a lot of pressure in his head, he tried hard to remain happy, but he could not do so. He used to cry in silence in his room when no one was around. When I talked to him for the first time about his health, he said that he felt trapped in silence and humiliation. I told him, “You are ill, you are not your normal self, but I am with you and I will be with you in this journey”.

In medical terms, he was mentally ill, and he could not receive the emotional, moral and psychological support that he needed, which further aggravated his symptoms. His parents came to know when he cried over the phone talking to them, but they didn’t want to admit that it may be a case of mental illness. Instead of emotionally supporting him and taking him to a doctor they said, “There is nothing to worry, it happens to everyone. No one approaches a psychologist for a problem like this”! When he didn’t get the required support, he approached a psychologist, that too after a delay of one year. When his family and relatives came to know that he was taking professional help, they  awarded him with abuses like- “You are mad, you are mental, you are weak, and you are responsible for all this.”

When you listen to this brief introduction about this man Abram, what do you make of him? Would you be hesitant, if this man comes to live next to you? Would you be happy working with him at your workplace? If this man had been your brother, would you have let others know that your brother is on medicines for a mental illness? Do you believe that he is responsible for his illness and it’s something he has caused within himself? Would you treat him differently, would you be a little more sympathetic to him or a little rude? Would you allow such a person to become a teacher to your children? Would you allow him to marry your sister if she wants to marry him?

The answers to all these questions lie on how we look at the cases of mental illness. All these questions are related to the mindset of the society and the taboo that surrounds mental illness. Sometimes it takes years for the patients to realise what is happening to them in the first place; because people around them and their family who always notice even a mild fever cannot notice a dangerous mental illness. Even if they do notice after a few years, the social precept of “Log kya kahenge, Samaaj kya sochega”, suppresses the most critical medical and psychological issues that need immediate attention!

In India, there is a tendency to make people believe they are “normal” even when they have been dealing with a critical issue that needs to be addressed urgently just to avoid judgement and gossip. Before we go into the details of mental health issues, let us first understand what sadness is and how it is different from mental illness. It’s normal to feel sad when you get some unintended result of your actions, have some unfulfilled expectations, face any kind of loss, feel stressed or get hurt when you believed that you were loved but you were wrong. If we look at the philosophical side of this: it is often said that to enjoy happiness you must also experience sadness otherwise it would have no value in your life. Most of the times feeling sad is a short-term problem but if you feel sad for an extended period, then you are probably facing mental illness.

What is mental illness?

Mental Health: According to an American Psychologist, mental illness is a disease that causes mild to severe disturbances in thought and/or behaviour. Like other medical illness, it is also a health problem related to changes in the brain. Like other illnesses, it also improves with appropriate treatment.

Why is talking about mental health issues a taboo? Why do we fear about “Log kya kahenge”?

People want to deny their problems related to mental health because they don’t have a clear understanding of what mental illness is and why it’s treatment should be a priority. They also deny this problem because they are concerned more about “Log kya kahenge” when people would come to know about their treatment, than being concerned about their health. People with mental illness fear change, that’s also a reason for denying and not acknowledging their problem. It’s unrealistic to expect cooperation from a society where people don’t have a clear understanding of mental health issues.

Generally, people cannot recognise mental illness at the first instance, even if they do, they don’t really know the way forward because there is so much of social stigma in the society that a person can never open up easily, in their early days when it’s easiest to treat any mental illness. A person suffering from a mental illness is scared to talk about it out of the fear of judgement and mockery by people, so along with helping the person in getting treatment, the society also needs to be empathetic.

Why is mental illness a social stigma in India?

1) There is a lack of awareness in our society because talking about mental illness has never been a part of our growing up and education; neither at homes nor schools.

2) In our movies, tv serials, novels and other books, patients of mental illness are depicted as someone who resorts to violence or is being treated at a mental hospital or is being held captive at some mental asylum.

3) Mental illnesses are not visible in most of the cases, even if it is noticed by someone; the society attaches various superstitious beliefs with the patient who is mentally ill.

Common myths related to the mental illness that exist in our society:

1) Mental illness is a sign of personal weakness and lack of willpower.

“Mard ko dard nahi hota, be a man, show your mental toughness…”. These are a few phrases which Abram always used to hear. Our society labels someone who goes through a mental health issue as weak. People who need clinical attention are not lazy or mentally weak, and they do not need to feel sorry for them when society forms an opinion about them. It’s just like any other disease caused due to an imbalance of the neurotransmitters in the brain which cannot be overcome only by willpower.

2) People with mental illness can never get back to their normal life. Due to the absence of positive thinking, hopelessness becomes a part of this illness, so people with mental illness may think that their life will never get better but in reality, positive thinking replaces all the hopelessness gradually when treatment is done and they get better.

How to break the social stigma?


Created by Abuzar Tabassum

Do you think that all mentally ill patients are stigmatised by society sooner or later?
Spread awareness:

It is a fact that we know little about mental illness and we don’t consider it important; because we are surrounded by myths and social stigma related to mental illness. We should be aware of mental health concerns and educate others as well by spreading the word starting from our family. We must emphasize that mental illness is not something to be ashamed of.

2) We should look for permanent solutions:

If a case of suicide of any famous personality comes on the news, we suddenly start talking about it. Discussions on media channels take place frequently, where we talk about social stigma, the taboo that surrounds mental illness but then after a few days, it all takes a back seat. We should frequently arrange seminars and discussions if we really want to change the social narrative of this social stigma.

Mental healthcare in India.

A survey conducted by NIMHANS, Bengaluru in 2016 says, roughly one in 20 Indians suffer from depression. According to WHO (World Health Organization), one in four people in the world gets affected due to mental disorders at some point in their lives. Currently, around 450 million people are suffering from such conditions which means it is also the leading cause of illness worldwide. In 2011, a study sponsored by WHO found out that 36% of Indians suffered from a major depressive episode at some point in their lifetime. This means that India is the leading country as far as the number of people who suffer from some form of mental illness at some point in their lives is concerned.

According to a report by WHO, less than 10% of those suffering from depression, get the access to the right medical treatment. In the US, this figure is 44%, and in South Korea, 82% get access to treatment. This shows the treatment gap of mental illness in our country which is due to a dearth of psychological experts and psychiatrist. In India, there are three psychiatrists for every one million people who are negligible as compared to the UK where there are over 14,000 psychiatrists for every one million.

When Abram was in the final year of his graduation, I motivated him to share his story with fellow students and teachers. When he shared, he got an unexpected positive response from his batch mates, juniors, seniors, and teachers. Many others also opened up that day to share their part of the struggles with mental illness.

There is a need for more discussions on this topic as this would create a friendly environment for those who are hesitant to talk about mental illness and fear of its social implications.

You must be to comment.

More from Abuzar Tabassum

Similar Posts

By Aditee

By Karun Lama

By InnerHour Mental Health Platform

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below