Indians still live in denial about mental health issues

To Indians, diseases mean dengue, TB, cardiovascular problems, cancer, diabetes and now Covid. How is feeling ‘low’ or ‘anxious’ the same?

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Life in India is tough. Really tough. Right from getting a decent hospital for a delivery to getting a job, shuttling to work, buying a house and even surviving the rains, life of an average Indian is very difficult. When normal life is this difficult, feeling frustrated, angry, upset, sad, disappointed and anxious is just a part of that “normal life”.

Hence, when someone mentions ‘mental health conversations’ or caring for people with ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety’, most Indians go: “What the hell are you talking about?” This is how all Indians feel as part of life. How is this even a problem to be treated? People complaining about this are just ‘weak’ or ‘misfits’ or ‘losers making excuses’.

Not understanding this Indian sentiment, our current mental health ambassadors continue their messaging. They say ‘mental health issues are like any other disease’ or ‘repeat after me, depression is real.’

Indians get gob smacked. To Indians, diseases mean dengue, TB, cardiovascular problems, cancer, diabetes and now Covid. How is feeling ‘low’ or ‘anxious’ the same?

Everybody gets upset, feels low or even feels anxiety at some point in their life. That’s not a disorder. The disorder comes when those feelings become intense, do not go away and hamper your everyday life. It’s when the feelings stay for weeks, months and years. It’s the intensity and longevity that classifies it as a disorder. It needs attention and interventions. To deny this even exists because ‘I saw him smile’ or other insensitive talk is harmful.

However, since SSR’s death has had national resonance, this is a good time to at least discuss the broader issues around mental health. First, mental health is important. According to a WHO report, 1 in 4 people globally have a mental health issue at some point in their life. Closer home, according to a govt-supported NIMHANS study, 1 in 10 Indians have a mental health condition and 1 in 20 Indians have depression. Hence, for Indians to deny it, and to say this is all ‘touchy-feely, new-age hogwash’ and ‘our daadis and naanis didn’t get depressed’ is really not facing the reality.

The response to SSR’s death, where loony, zero-real-evidence conspiracy theories trended for months, but an important discussion on mental health was dismissed as talk by ‘depression gang’ is highly unfortunate. Statistics show people with mental health issues are in big numbers. Covid and economic stress will make the numbers shoot up further. We must prioritize mental health so that people can talk about it openly. Making India sensitive to mental health would be a much better tribute to Sushant, who would have valued it a lot more than never-ending conspiracy theories.

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