It was time for Nandini to leave for Japan for her higher education. Nonetheless, she was not sad to leave India. The first and foremost thing she wanted to do there was to meet a therapist. She was dealing with a traumatic past. She hadn’t dared to reveal the reason for her silence to anyone. But when she finally did, it was accompanied by a critical reaction from her parents. What she actually wanted was, to see a therapist and find a solution to her occasional mood swings and anxiety attacks, to which her parents replied, “Mental health is not a real problem, we have never had it in our lives. Therapists just waste your time; it makes no sense to spend money on someone who will repeat the same words as we do. No one would marry you if they get to know about the same.’’ Feeling hopeless and not being understood, she chose to leave India under the pretense of further studies.

Mental health in India remains a taboo. Indian society often stigmatizes mental health. What Nandini went through, is just another example of the same. We often come across statements like, “Mental health is not a big deal, everyone has similar problems. Stop using your phone, and it will be over.” This makes it clear, why mental health remains a hidden burden for many. Well, let us consider our own case.

How many of you have talked about your mental health with your parents? The last time you felt anxious, did you have the thought of calling your parents and seeking help?

Pretty sure, the answer would be no for most of us.

The fact that the majority of Indians do not accept mental illness as a legitimate health concern affirms the social stigma associated with it. Parents are often seen as using their hardships as parameters to judge their child’s mental health concerns. The “Log kya kahenge?” (what will people say) attitude acts as a barrier for the victims to open up. Also, Indian cinema is often seen as promoting inaccurate stereotypes about the same. Bollywood films frequently portray mental health through jokes or unnecessary drama. For example, the recent film ‘Atrangi re’ starring Akshay Kumar and Sara Ali Khan generated controversy for being insensitive and comical towards the depiction of schizophrenia, a serious mental disorder. Therapy is often shown unrealistically thus validating the stigma around the topic. For instance, in the web series “The Family Man 2”, the marriage counselor was merely a source of comic relief.
The question remains, why is mental health a topic of disgrace in India and not in other western countries like Japan or Germany? What accounts for the significant disparity between the number of people who claim to be affected by common mental illnesses and the number of people who seek and receive professional help?

An important part of the answer to this question is contained in the ancient stigma which is still perpetuated among the youth of today. In ancient times, mental illness was thought to be the work of evil spirits or demons. Those with mental illnesses were imprisoned, tortured, or even killed. A hole was drilled in the skull of a mentally ill person to expunge bad spirits from the individual’s head. Thus, even today many people are forced to deal with the same mindset as their parents, as a result feeling hesitant to express what they’re dealing with. Additionally, India gained independence much later than most western countries, causing a delay for people in receiving even the most basic resources. As a result, awareness about mental health was often overlooked in the country. This can still be seen in schools. Unless the school makes an effort, students are not taught anything about their mental health. This leads to a lack of awareness, which in turn leads to a variety of issues. Well, most of us might be aware of the term mental health but a large section of society remains clueless on how to treat someone who is mentally ill. Hence, schools must educate children about some major mental disorders, as well as how to treat someone who is suffering from one.

Today, most people lack the financial resources to seek professional care, nor do they receive any support from their loved ones. However, the internet has acted as a savior in terms of providing a platform for the GENZ to openly discuss the issue anonymously with no fear of judgment. Among the new generation, platforms like Discord, Reddit, or 7cups are widely used as a means to share their problems and seek therapy. Although this is not a long-term solution, it provides hope to those who cannot afford therapy due to the reasons discussed above. So, now the situation is gradually changing in India, but we still have a long way to go.

Helpline numbers:

07676602602: Parivarthan (Operated by 15 trained, certified, and multilingual volunteers)
080-46110007: NIMHANS (A team of psychologists and psychiatrists offers free mental support to those dealing with distress, anxiety, fear, or any kind of discomfort.)
09582208181: Sneha offers emotional support to anyone feeling distressed or suicidal (Run by a group of volunteers0

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