17% of Global Suicides Happen in India. Are We Doing Enough About Mental Health?
We, as a society, lack community engagement and safe spaces when it comes to conversations around mental health.
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Mental! Retarded! Bipolar! Schizophrenic!
How many times in your life have you used or heard these words?
How often have you trivialized someone's depression calling it their habit of ‘attention-seeking’? Or how many times have you called your need for cleanliness OCD behaviour?
These are some everyday examples of how we use serious mental illnesses as adjectives or to get a few laughs. Most of us are guilty and it’s not our fault. Mental Health has been such a taboo topic in India that we don’t even acknowledge that it’s such a pressing problem.
The stigma attached to mental illness is so acute that we have had a historically ‘hush-hush’ attitude towards it. Our culture has categorically discouraged emotional sharing and outbursts.
We have always preferred to "keep it in the family" rather than seeing a professional. This aversion has led to people keeping quiet about their struggles and psychological trauma. Bottling up of emotions as agreed by experts leads to untimely and dangerous outbursts not only for the person but also for the people around them.
Suicide is one of the leading manifestations of underlying psychological trauma.
Suicide rates have risen exponentially in recent years and 17% of total global suicides occur in India. This is an alarming statistic!
Only very recently our newspapers were painted red with the news of suicide of a student from a reputed university and the reason unearthed? Loneliness.
We as a society lack community engagement and safe spaces when it comes to conversations around mental health. Our reluctance to accept mental illness as a real problem has led to so many of our own people feel rejected, alone, and isolated.
It is about time that we give mental health the same importance as physical health. The government has already taken a step in this direction by introducing the Mental Health Act, 2017.
Bollywood actors such as Deepika Padukone and Aamir Khan have also expressed the need for de-stigmatization of mental illnesses and the importance of opening up.
Such famous role models have to step up as the torchbearers of this movement so that we can normalize mental health, and people do not feel judged or attacked when sharing their stories of trauma.
In individual capacity, we can help create safe spaces for people to vocalize their issues, share their trauma and feel accepted for who they are.
We can normalize mental health issues by talking about it candidly, candidly with our parents, peers, children, friends, and society.
By not raising eyebrows on individuals who see therapists, counsellors or psychiatrists we can show solidarity with the suffering.
Simply talking to someone can remarkably reduce the chances of suicide in our community, so it must be pledged on World Mental Health Day to give or seek help when it is needed.
Equating mental health with physical health is what is required, and it is only then we can truly be a society by all and a society for all.
(The author is a Counselling Psychologist in the Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences at Fortis Healthcare, Jaipur.)
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