It’s not a stigma.
Mental health and illnesses have been plagued by stigma since centuries.
Yes, there was a time in history when the mentally ill were not only labelled insane but were believed to be under the influence of dark powers. Treatments were gruesome and humiliating.
The situation started turning around in the 19th century when mental illness was recognised as a disease of the brain. The advent of psychoanalysis, psychotherapies and progressive findings in the medical aspects of mental health took place.
Pharmacological treatments became more specific and less disabling.
And yet, two decades into the 21st century, mental illness still carries the burden of stigma. A stigma that is now nearly baseless and is only harming us. The National Mental Health Survey, undertaken by the National Institute of Mental Health and Sciences revealed that 13.7% Indians live with mental illness, which in numbers is more than 7 crores.
Every organ in the human body is designated with specific functions, the brain even more so. It is important to understand that thoughts, emotions, ideas, behaviours are all a result of complex brain activity. It is only logical that any dysfunction in the brain will lead to problems in these areas and manifest as mental illness.
The trouble often is that most people associate their thoughts, emotions and behaviours with their identity and sense of self.
So any disturbances in these areas is considered a sign of personal weakness rather than illness. We don’t consider fever as a personal weakness, but mood swings or anxiety is often attributed to a lack of ‘willpower’. We don’t think to use ‘willpower’ to treat diabetes, hypertension or any other chronic illness but it seems to be the go-to remedy for many for an illness of the brain, a much more complex organ.
The result of this is a population that continues to attempt to deal with the daily stress of their fast-paced lives and fails to see it when mental illness hits them. The illness affects their day to day functioning, personal interactions and overall efficiency, so much so, that often waking up and going about a regular day feels like a burden. For an unfortunate few, it sometimes ends in suicide.
So yes, a dialogue on mental health issues is the need of the hour.