“No one wishes to have dark days, sleepless nights, grumpy mornings and this endless dark tunnel with no sign that it ever ends. Mental illnesses aren’t a choice.”
Mental illnesses are the unseen, unheard, silent killers. It’s the pain that’s too much to cope with, too hard to deal with and so misunderstood. You can’t escape it no matter how hard you try, because it follows you around like a black shadow that’s on the inside, eating you.
There isn’t anything tragically beautiful about them, it’s just tragic. It’s not sad songs and poetry, shy glances or drowning in the bath. It’s not ghostly white skin tainted by charcoal circles under sad eyes and large purple bruises stretching viciously up your arms. It isn’t lonely walks, vacant coffee shops or smoking dusty cigarettes.
Depression is unwashed clothes and flaking skin. It’s over eating and the inability to even get out of bed. It’s giving up on yourself and not taking pride in your appearance anymore. It’s empty inboxes, bursts of anger and late night tears. It’s a feeling of disgust within yourself that makes you want to tear off your own skin just so you can feel clean. It’s uncertainty and confusion. It’s losing weight, long showers and greasy hair. It’s constantly wishing you could be somewhere or someone else. It’s losing the will to even live.
Similarly, anxiety isn’t just sweating and shaking and shortness of breath. It’s also feeling like you have no control over your life and there is a knot in your stomach and you feel like your world is crashing down completely and you have to sit there and act like you’re fine.
Being bipolar is like being on a roller coaster ride. Sometimes you can predict drop offs and others you just have to hang on because the next turn sends you into an unexpected spiral. Sometimes you are laughing and throwing your hands in the air and then other times you are clinging, simply holding on for dear life screaming it the top of your lungs.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorders are like unpredictable demons of your own mind, where the soul is a puppet of your own fears, where a line between right and wrong gets blurred, where your true identity disappears only in you, where you get accosted for thousands of pointless known questions, where you get beaten every single second by your own self, where everyone seems fine except you, where regret is smaller word for ‘reassurance’, where mind goes dead and breathing continues, where you stuck in a small box full of nightmares.
So, are we doing enough about mental health? Long answer short, no.
The first and foremost reason for India to lose its mental health is the lack of awareness and sensitivity about the issue. There is a big stigma around people suffering from any kind of mental health issues. They are often tagged as ‘lunatics’ by the society. This leads to a vicious cycle of shame, suffering and isolation of the patients. Also, there is a serious shortage of mental healthcare workforce in India.
One of the biggest hurdles in addressing mental health is the measurement of objective information. With other illnesses, there are lab reports, X-rays, CT scan, MRI, etc. which are used for identification of illnesses. In case of mental health, such objective parameters aren’t available. Secondly, despite it’s enormous social burden, mental health remains a taboo subject that is susceptible to age-old stigmas, prejudices and fears. Because people can’t see a physical deformity they think there’s no substance to your illness. People often associate it with pretending and take it lightly in less developed states. Even highly educated people react the same way and lack empathy. They’ll belittle mental illnesses and blame it on the sufferer’s personality. Thus, in our country, the discovery of a mental illness is often followed by denial and hesitation to seek help. Thirdly, the output of the same disease or problem varies significantly from person to person, making it very subjective. Thus, needless to say, the path towards addressing and normalizing discussions about mental health is indeed a rocky one.
Mental health stigma is not only a culturally learned aversion to discussing mental illness, it is also the subsequent ignorance in the general population about how to recognize stigma in everyday life or an institutional level. And this stigma is can be soul damaging. It’s also personal and unique to the individual, yet it encourages society to treat the ones suffering from it as: Dangerous. Expendable. Useless. Invisible. To dismantle stigma we have to look much deeper at the specific problems and manifestations of it. How does stigma penetrate into the scientific publications and research? What type of education are we given on mental health in public education? All of these more nuanced questions give us routes to comparison and action. I believe it is in these details that stigma exists and where it must be sought if we are to dismantle it.
We, as a society, need to learn to treat people with mental illnesses with compassion rather than telling them that their brain is defective.
To build a better world we need to consciously design a better environment for all of humanity, one in which all the choices we have are good options. What we have now is a dynamic that makes people sick and then blames them for being sick. This world of fear and coercion can be swapped for one of love and cooperation, a world that brings us all health and happiness in all our different and wonderful cultures.