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Indian Society’s Worst Mistake: Stigmatizing Mental Health Illness

Let’s talk about mental health.

Have you ever wondered why people tend to stay away from someone that is suffering from depression? Or how people talk about them in hushed voices, even if they are a very close family member? These are a few things I wondered when I was growing up, and for some time in my life, I thought that depression was something to be scared of! But wait, why am I only talking about depression? This article said, “mental health illness,” right? When our Indian society refuses to accept people with depression, the acceptance of other mental illnesses is a far-fetched idea. 

Indian society sees people who suffer from mental health illness as a monster, a ticking time-bomb – aggressive and dangerous. In reality, episodes of aggression and violence are rare and have a deeper meaning (maybe a symptom of psychosis). It does not mean that we should shut out people who have a mental illness or condemn them.

The grave mistake made by Indian society was to learn the meaning and seriousness of mental illnesses, mostly from Bollywood. Bollywood mocks people with mental illness like Rohit in Koi Mil Gaya and normalizes discriminatory behavior. Bollywood has the worst description of mental illness. Even if mental illness characterization is good, they fail to mention any possible solution for the given syndrome. Instead, they use it as a significant plot element – like Autism in Barfi or Depression in Anjaana Anjaani (link). Although not all movies are like this, a few good movies on mental illness in Bollywood are – Dear Zindagi, 15 Park Avenue, and a few more (find here). One of the most famous actresses in Bollywood, Deepika Padukone, regularly shares her story of how she fought against depression (to know more, read here).

Bollywood is not the reason for this stigma! Instead, our society cannot understand, talk about, and be aware of mental health. They write off mental illness as loathsome and a “bad abnormality” in a person. They relate the word “abnormality” to something fundamentally wrong with reason and would happen to a low-income, less educated, or unhappy individual. It’s not their fault they are like this (environmental and parental issues aside). If something does happen to someone who is happy or has a content life (you don’t know what’s happening to them), society is left stunned. What people don’t realize they are part of the problem when they have prejudices against mental health. They don’t realize that they are part of a chain where the victim lives in denial and hide their feelings. Ultimately the victim lives in isolation and loneliness, which could worsen the victim’s condition to the point of self-harm.

Depression is not when you feel sad or even depressed. Depression is very different and a hell of a place to be. Don’t think that you are in depression just because one day, you feel super sad. All depression is not the same. If you hear someone has depression, don’t jump to the worst conclusion. It is a complex mental illness, which involves intense sadness over a long time and withdrawal from usual activities (to know more, check this link). 

I know depression is a dark place, and I also understand that fighting it is hard. If you are reading this article and suffer from any mental illness, let me tell you one thing – you are stronger than anyone I know. 

You are here. You are fighting, and you will be okay. 

An article in The Economic Times said that many people suffering from mental disorders (like Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, etc.) in India don’t know they have one until very late in their lives. Mary Alice Do didn’t know she had Bipolar Disorder until she was 45. In the same article, a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) uncovered that 7.5% of India’s population suffers from mental disorders. WHO predicts that by 2020, almost 20% of India’s population will suffer from some mental illness (link to the article).

It is pretty clear that the “talk about mental illness” is a taboo in India. Going to therapy is a foreign idea. “You don’t have any major problems, you don’t need therapy” is the standard way of dismissing it. These are things that I have heard people say, and I am not making this up. Mental health is stigmatized everywhere, but people at least acknowledge (and allow therapy) these illnesses while in other countries. Indian society lives in complete denial and rejection. Our culture is judgemental, condescending, and prejudiced against patients of these mental disorders. 

And in doing so, they are making the lives of people suffering from disorders even harder. Self-prejudice is a common trait in mental disorders victims. On top of that, they need to think about what society would think of them? If society will even accept them?  We need to talk with anyone who does not realize how important this talk is. We need to educate ourselves and the people around us! We need to bring change.

Society needs to make changes in the right direction by normalizing mental illness conversations, rather than demeaning them. Instead of making people feel more self-conscious and ashamed of their mental health, we need to create a safe environment where it is okay to talk about mental illnesses. Some tips are as follows – 

  • No judgement and no distractions.

  • Be a listener. Listen to their problems and needs.

  • Know your limits.

  • Talk about wellbeing.

  • Ask them to take professional help. (To know more check out this link)

There are many ways in which you can help someone suffering or showing symptoms of any mental disorder. I highly recommend reading this article “How to help a Loved One With a Mental Illness.” Mental health is a serious issue, and someone should push the conversation in this direction. Especially during this pandemic, we are all isolated and stressed about the situation, making us vulnerable to spiral into any mental disorder or make impulsive decisions. 

Stay Strong and Talk!



Hi! I'm a junior at NYU Stern studying Data Science and Marketing. I love to read and is passionate about astronomy, and cooking! I also write for my anonymous own blog. Want to have a chat? Contact me at pm2982@nyu.edu or reach out to me on Instagram (@_priyal.maheshwari_)!
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