Kristen Bryant-Bodies

Mental Health Needs to be Talked About in Indian Households

Growing up in a South Indian household has taught me a lot about my culture, ancestors and what they had to sacrifice to give me the life I have now, but it has also taught me that there are many taboo topics that we do not talk about that are widely talked about and given importance in Western culture. One of these topics is, you guessed it, mental health.  

Whenever I used to hear my Caucasian friends' parents ask them, "are you okay" I was always taken aback because, in my house, that was one thing that wasn't asked regularly. It was always assumed that I was okay and if I wasn't, it was "just a phase" that I would get over. I had a hard time in high school—I was bullied and picked on and had a lot of anxiety. I don't talk about it because, in the long run, it didn't matter, but I really wish that someone would've been there for me and seen what happened as an issue. I would sometimes come home from school, run to my room, curl up in a ball and cry. I used to get panic attacks so bad I would be in my closet on the floor crying and heaving. 

I am not saying that I blame my parents in the slightest—they had no idea that this was happening, and they probably didn't know much about anxiety and depression. But that doesn't speak to them; it speaks to the culture they grew up in. Both my parents were born and brought up in India, and like I said, mental health was always a taboo topic there. They didn't even know words like anxiety and depression. My parents might've had anxiety or depression at some point, but it just never was addressed because no one knew that's what it was called. 

A photo of scrabble words assembled to spell uploaded to Pixabay by Wokandapix, but credit/attribution not required. India is home to over 1 billion people today. A study conducted by the World Health Organization in 2015 shows that one in five Indians may suffer from depression in their lifetime, equivalent to 200 million people. Due to the stigma that surrounds mental health, a lack of awareness and limited access to professional help, only 10-12% of sufferers will seek help. The Live Laugh Love Foundation established by Deepika Padukone, a famous Bollywood actress in 2015, aims to create awareness of and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness with a focus on those experiencing stress, anxiety and depression. The foundation was started on Padukone's core belief that no life should be lost because of mental illness. 

The foundation commissioned "How India Perceives Mental Health: TLLLF National Survey Report 2018" to gauge how Indian's view mental health with the objective of exploring perceptions surrounding mental illness. The study revealed three broad segments of people based on their view of mental illness. Segment one showed 27% of people showing support towards people perceived as having a mental illness; segment two showed 47% of people indicating higher judgment against people perceived as having a mental illness. Segment three showed 26% of people indicating fear of people perceived as having a mental illness. The study also surveyed peoples' understanding of mental health. While 87% of those surveyed showed some understanding of mental illness, 71% also used terms associated with stigma such as retard, crazy/mad/stupid and irresponsible/careless. This shows that awareness and stigma are two separate entities, although interlinked. 

Both mental health awareness and the stigma surrounding mental illness need to be talked about in the Indian community. If individuals continue to view mental illness with fear and resistance, it will remain difficult for people with mental illness to seek out support over the fear of being judged or labeled.