In 2014, when the news of the sad demise of Actor Robbin Williams came out, it was not only Koko, the Gorilla at California Gorilla Foundation but the entire world that mourned in shock. Williams was found in his apartment and he had died of asphyxia due to hanging. No traces of alcohol or drugs, which at one point in time he was addicted to, were found in his blood. Socially, he seemed normal and took the decision to end his life in a “healthy mind”. But was he healthy? NO, certainly not. People found it hard to believe that Williams, so successful, rich and a family guy, who taught the world how to love, laugh and live, through his movies and stand-up comedy, was suffering from depression. In my opinion, the most lethal illness is mental illness, which a normal eye cannot see, and which the person suffering can only feel. Sometimes the person suffering even may not know that he is suffering.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently released a statistic – 7.5% of the total population of India is suffering from mental illness. That is more than 100 million people and 15% of the total population of the world is suffering from mental illness. If you take all the people suffering from mental illness in India, they will create a group which will be amongst the 15 most populated countries in the world. The survey also suggests that by 2020, the percentage of people suffering from mental illness will grow from 7.5% to 20%. That will be around 270 million people alone in India. Indonesia is the fourth most populated country in the world, with a population of little more than 270 million people.
The situation is not just alarming but destructive, considering the rising population of people suffering from mental illness, and the availability of professionals in India. Around 4000 trained professionals are available in India to tackle these problems, according to the report published by WHO. But the scariest part is the country is not talking about it. Approximately 10% of Indians are suffering from diabetes and we talk about it, but we choose to remain silent about the mental health of 7.5% people.
The mental health system in India is not only suffering from the silence of the society but also from the lack of awareness and stigma attached to it. And this becomes more painful if you are from the Queer community. I am struggling since childhood regarding my gender identity. I never came out, and thus, spent so many years living alone dealing with my thoughts and pain. These thoughts and fear made me suffer through numerous anxieties. Lastly, it dragged me to depression as I stopped feeling joy in anything. Every shred of happiness in my life started coming with a sense of fear, telling my mind that something worse is going to happen.
I started losing my confidence. In 2016, I finally decided to consult a therapist as my trauma was unbearable. I had no one to consult as “these things” are not at all welcomed in society. Living in a tire-II city further made my life miserable. I contacted a couple of therapists who refused on the pretext “We don’t do it for Gay people”. One of the therapists asked me to first conduct a hormone test to know my hormone level. I was frustrated at not getting my answers, in fact, no one was listening to my questions. I contacted this LGBTQ NGO and went there to tell them everything. The consultant handed me a couple of magazines and asked me to read, understand and figure it out on my own. I stopped even trying to reach a therapist, thereafter.
This year, I moved to a new city, a metropolitan city, and contacted a therapist. We are talking and I am feeling better. When I started my therapy, I didn’t tell my family but later I told them, and they are supportive. Though I am yet to tell them about my gender identity confusion, they are supportive of me going for the therapy. When I told some of my colleagues about going to the therapist, their reaction described why most people in India don’t seek a cure for mental illness. One of my colleagues asked me to go to NIMHANS Bengaluru for Neuro treatment. When I explained to them that I need someone to talk to, one of the colleagues suggested: “Let’s have some drinks and tell us everything, you will feel better.”
We don’t talk about mental health because of the stigma attached to it. For the society, either it is normal if someone behaves and feels the way society wants to or he is “Paagal” (mad) and in need of electric shock treatment. There is no middle ground for mental illness in the guidebook of society. Families try to hide the mental illness and they refuse to acknowledge the same for family honour. This stigma attached to mental health makes things more complicated. We have been raised in a certain way that restricts us to talk freely. The constant fear of “Kya kahenge log” (What will people say?) pulls us back every time we dare. When I started going to the therapist, I was reluctant in revealing this to my family because I was afraid. I gave them hints at the start. I could gather the courage to tell them only after a couple of sessions. This fear of stigma needs to be brushed aside.
Even the government is ignorant about mental illness. A couple of years ago the health ministry issued a circular, advising the public to go for regular workouts, get proper sleep, eat good food and go on vacations to counter mental illness. If only it would work and be enough.
Ask a person suffering from anxiety and he will tell you these things don’t help. The cure for mental illness starts from sharing your problem. The first thing is to admit that you have a mental illness and there is nothing wrong in going to a therapist to talk about your issues. We go to doctors when we fall ill, and we don’t shame anyone about that so why is the rule different for mental illness? Families and society need to start talking about mental illness. Hundreds of thousands of people commit suicide every year due to depression and other mental issues. India ranks amongst the top ten countries when it comes to suicide rates. We are one of the worst performers in the World Happiness Index. The situation is alarming, and we need to talk.
Anxiety, Depression, phobia and other similar mental illnesses cannot be treated if you suggest morning walks, foods, and yoga. Do you think they have not tried? And please stop asking people to “be happy” to fight depression. They are depressed because they are not able to be happy. It is not just a usual thing; it can take lives. So, it is high time we, as a society, put an end to the stigma attached to mental illness. It can only be achieved if we talk. We need to talk. We have to talk.