When The Live Love Laugh Foundation carried out a national survey on how India views mental health, the organization found that over 40% of Indians referred to those suffering from mental illnesses as “retard”, “crazy”, “mad”, “careless”, or “stupid.” Mental health is one of the most ignored aspects of healthcare. What makes the situation even more shameful is how differently all of us perceive mental health from physical health. If being hit by a bad bout of influenza or diarrhea is considered normal, then why is there so much stigma around being hit by clinical depression for instance? While many of us are quick to label patients battling mental illnesses with brutal insensitivity, very few realize or can even fathom the symptoms mental illnesses come with. Interviewing India connected with four individuals across the country to understand what they really go through when their mental illnesses take the better of them.
Suyash Kumar, 28 years, Marketing Professional, Bangalore
Diagnosed with clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder
It’s difficult to describe what goes through my mind during a bad bout primarily because my head is in a complete scramble, a “bheja fry“. I experience constant brain fog, and a constant voice in my head just praying “I hope this gets over soon.” I am always exhausted, my eyes and head hurt from the extra strain that I have to put into everything from waking up, working, to even walking. Getting out of bed in the morning, and even basic hygiene like brushing my teeth, showering, laundry becomes a struggle. Weekends are spent in bed, feeling lousy, and a lot of binge eating happens. That seems to give me comfort and I always put on weight during my bouts, which then leads to more shame stemming from body image issues. My productivity falls dramatically, and I start making so many mistakes in my work. All this of course doesn’t really help with my self-esteem and self-confidence. The bad bouts shatter both.
“I am not good enough”, “wow, how stupid can I be to make mistakes like this?”, “what did I bungle now?” – these are some of the thoughts that keep repeating in my head. There is constant guilt and shame. I become super needy, just looking for some validation and comfort from others, particularly the authority figures in my life. I become overly talkative, trying to hide my pain I guess, and make a lot of jokes.
Pallab Das, 29 years, Professor of Law, Cuttak
Diagnosed with clinical depression and cured but continues to battle generalized anxiety disorder.
I got my first episode of depression when I started my first job. I had very different expectations from my job. The job was a trigger to my depression. It started with a headache, and I felt as if I was carrying a weight of 500kg, and the point of pain used to be the forehead. As a result, I started tapping my forehead very often, and soon the pain reached my belly. The pain was excruciating and intolerable. My heart beat become erratic and abnormal.This was followed by shaking of the legs.
I started crying a lot even in the company of people I had just met. I felt like I was trapped in a box. If I went out on a sunny day, I found the sun rays too strong. I always found the need to escape. I felt like committing suicide. That’s when I realized this wasn’t normal. I went to see a psychiatrist, and my symptoms matched those with clinical depression and I was put on medication. I remember going through two very horrible months. I even tried to self harm to the point of death. Fortunately, my friends helped me. Looking back, the need wasn’t to die but to escape from everything that I was going through, because even if I was diagnosed with depression, the medication had its side effects and that made me feel worse. Once my medication was changed, I felt better, and in a year’s time I was normal and my happy-self again. During this period, I consistently tried helping myself. I have tried all forms of alternative medicine like homeopathy, acupuncture and now yoga and all have helped me get well.
Sanchana Krishnan, 25 years, Mental Health Advocate, Gurgaon
Diagnosed with bipolar disorder
I live with bipolar disorder. The bad days can get extremely bad and often result in a lot of damage, in ways too graphic to describe. I lose anywhere from a few days to a few months to the depressive phases. I’m in a good place currently after a long, long battle this year, and I really don’t want to revisit the bad days now, because it’s torturous and I really want to take care of myself now so that I can handle my mood switches better.
Lavanya Seshasayee, 42 years, Founder of The Global Women’s Recovery Movement, Bangalore
Diagnosed with schizophrenia and clinical depression
I have a psychosocial disability that developed on account of being severely traumatized during my teenage years. While I do have a ‘severe’ psychosocial disability, and have bad bouts every now and then, what I value about myself is my ability to bounce back. Many times I have to work in spite of a bad bout. I have a block in my head that makes me simply want to sit and not work at all. I also feel terribly depressed whenever I think of all the ways my brother, parents and their extended families have traumatized me in the past. While other people would be scared of such a thing, all I have to do is meditate for a few seconds and the block goes away. There are times when I get exceedingly angry – this again is a defense reaction to being hurt when somebody does something nasty – human as I am. I sometimes raise my voice without my knowledge and then I immediately bring it under control since I monitor myself every now and then. I feel exceedingly shy and scared when I go to parties and experience a block before I meet or socialize with people, but then I immediately plug on to my spiritual resources and derive strength from them and there I am, having a ball of a time talking to people, joking with them and establishing networks with them in the context of my work.
I also tell people [those whom I think will understand me] about my disability and see how I can involve them in my cause to make them contribute to the larger good of the psychosocially challenged women.
After attending a social party I may feel totally exhausted because of sensitivity to sound and colors – again I engage in self hypnosis for about 15 minutes and I feel perfectly ok after that. When I am nervous before presenting at an international conference I may need to drink a lot of water and I come an hour early to every conference just to set up the laptop and connect it to the projector and rehearse my presentation mentally and I make sure I carry 2 bottles of water with me. If I am in my room all by myself and I experience a block in terms of not being able to work, I sing religious songs and I am immediately galvanized to work. If somebody tries making fun of me I just focus on my breathing and breathe slowly and that puts me in total control over myself. I then ignore their sarcasm and look for ways to bring them over to my side and befriend them.
Bouts induced by my disability do not make me dysfunctional – they merely make me find ways to overcome or circumvent obstacles. This is exactly how I went from being a chronic ‘patient’ to a mental health doctor.
Organizations such as The Live Love Laugh Foundation and The White Swan Foundation have recently launched campaigns to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. While The Live Love Laugh Foundation has invited survivors to come out and share their stories using the hashtag #NotAshamed, The White Swan Foundation has launched “Mission 10K”, a unique experiment to create India’s first people’s movement on mental health. Under this program, the organisation will train 200 individuals to have conversations on mental health in their respective spheres of influence. Manoj Chandran, the CEO of The White Swan Foundation, informed Interviewing India that after the success of the movement in Bangalore, interests for this movement are pouring in from Chennai and Mumbai.
As Deepika Padukone, Actor and Founder of TLLLF puts it, “We have realized that the biggest barrier preventing those suffering from mental illness from reaching out for help is the social stigma attached to the disease.” We wouldn’t stop a family member or a friend seeking help for fever right? Mental health is no different. Like any other physical illness, it needs medication, care and patience, acceptance from loved ones and most importantly, self-love.