Trigger warning: mental health disorders, domestic abuse, mention of suicide
Note: For the sake of anonymity, names have been changed in the text. No one in the piece is a psychologist/health expert or has any professional knowledge of the field.
“It was ordinary for me,” Bhavya* remarked when talking about growing up in an abusive household.
“I assumed every kid suffers this at home and it’s kept a secret all around.”
They described their childhood experiences of seeing their father be an incredibly nice caring man one day, and then abuse the family the next. It was perplexing but not unusual because they grew up with it. “Perhaps it was some kind of trauma he had. At least I thought so, while I was in school,” they added. “However, now that I’m a 25-year-old with two degrees, I’m starting to question whether it was a Psychological disorder that needed clinical treatment. It’s only a guess, but what if that was the case and no one bothered to get it checked?”
I am not a big fan of true crime documentaries, but Netflix’s House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths has stirred some important discourses lately. One of the most popular conclusions was how children, the most “modern” members of any family, are muted into concealing things that should not be buried. I decided to watch it for myself at that point.
I saw how crucial the mental health of parental authority is in a child’s upbringing in a social environment.
While most households in India and around the world have men at the helm, Aarya* feels that women, who are the most overlooked yet vital members of a community, are also susceptible to influence, particularly if they are dealing with challenges while raising a child.
“I was rather young at the time, and all I remember are the terms “Catatonic” and “Schizophrenia,” which I couldn’t even pronounce. My family has been fairly proactive in terms of mental health care, with my mother’s issue being a visible example. We had to get it treated,” remarked Aarya when asked about their mother’s health.
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The lack of a diagnosis may be one factor that blurs the line between certainty and uncertainty.
“I’ve never gone to a psychologist or got diagnosed. I got too afraid looking at my mother, and I still am,” Aarya continues. As mentioned in this article published by Regis College, parental mental illness increases a child’s risk of mental illness in comparison to their peers, and when both parents are mentally ill, the child is even more likely to follow suit.
“While it was relatively easier for me to adjust to the familial conditions growing up because we were in touch with professionals, things were not easy. I would have to face bullying in school. But sooner or later, people get used to it, they always do,” Aarya continues.
It’s no revelation that society assumes a crucial influence on a person’s mental health. But when it comes to a child, is it the responsibility of society, as well as their own family, to raise awareness of the issue and avoid stigmatisation?
When questioned about how society’s ignorance, or overindulgence for that matter, plays a role in these worries, Bhavya answers, “I mean, that is where the problem rests right now, that people become used to it instead of doing something about it.” Many people’s difficulties are exacerbated by their ignorance. You may even experience internalised shame, where you believe negative ideas or preconceptions about yourself, according to this article from the Mental Health Foundation.
“I often wonder if my mother would have been better off if she had spoken up about my father’s condition in society. Or still, they would not have come forward to help if society went on, as usual, doing nothing,” Bhavya continues.
Bhavya, like the rest of us, grew up seeing fathers and men in general as this saviour figure for any family. They take care of the financial obligations and all of the manly responsibilities that come with being a man. “However, I had no idea that my father had such a high capacity for violence,” they add as they recall growing up with a father figure that, in their opinion, needed medical attention.
“Looking back now, everything appears to be a fog, but I do recall questioning myself about how being the head of a family comes with the added perks of abusing others.”
Bhavya doesn’t seem to understand where their father’s behaviour stems from. “I suppose it began after I was born. I am an only child, and prior to my birth, my parents were happily married for seven years, or at least that’s what I infer from the images,” they add.
For a man, becoming a father is a life-changing experience. The move to parenthood can bring up new emotions, feelings, and changes for fathers. According to a report published by BioMed Central, roughly 10% of new fathers suffer from depression, yet there is still a lack of understanding about this, let alone suitable help.
When presented with this information, Bhavya says, “Maybe this would have been the case because, in retrospect, my parents did have financial difficulties raising me. I’m just curious if there are any programmes or special offers available for parents seeking treatment after childbirth to make the process go more smoothly.” And while there has been extensive research in this sector, according to KidsHealth, Postpartum Depression in parents is not given much weight.
Women, as has been widely documented, are the more affectionate members of any family. Especially when they are moms, females are burdened with additional responsibilities, with little to no support from the men in the family. So, what happens if this mother is diagnosed with a disease that has negative consequences for both her and her child?
Since Aarya’s mother was diagnosed, she has gotten excellent care. “She is much more stable and healthy now, and I couldn’t be happier,” they say, “but I do wonder what it would have been like if I had this fun and loving mother when I was a kid when I needed her the most.” Due to parental mental health issues, children may experience a lack of love and affection as they grow up, which can have serious effects later in life.
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According to this Motherly article, science backs up the premise that parents’ warmth and compassion for their children leads to excellent outcomes for those children throughout their lives. Children who do not have affectionate parents tend to have lower self-esteem and to feel more alienated, hostile, aggressive, and antisocial.
Both Bhavya’s and Aarya’s childhoods share a common theme: the dearth of parental responsibility. As a result, they developed years of trauma and various inabilities as they grew up.
When asked if they’re worried about passing on their traits to their children in the future if they decide to raise one, Bhavya says, “Perhaps it’s a vicious cycle, as you may be aware. The trauma and unhealthy factors keep passing down from generation to generation until, like the Burari instance, it leads to complete ruin of the family.”
“I have not known the anxiety and resistance other people face in being diagnosed by a mental health professional,” Aarya remarks at last, “but I believe the upcoming generation may still do so in the future, even with all the awareness and upgrades going on. I just hope the future isn’t as dismal as it appears.”
Note: The author is part of the Sept-Oct ’21 batch of the Writer’s Training Program.