Mentally ill in an Indian home: ‘It’s all in your head’

©Clare Matsushima

It is believed that one in every four people suffers from some form of mental or behavioral disorder and despite the awareness given to mental health in recent years, this is still one of the most taboo topics among the Indian society.

Diya* is 24, has suffered with a combination of Borderline Personality Disorder and Clinical Depression for ten years now, but has only recently started to come to terms with her diagnosis.

“I went through most of my adolescence being told it was ‘all in my head’, and I should ‘get over it’,” she told Artefact. “This made me believe all the ups and downs were just a phase that I would grow out of.”

Indians tend to have a very holistic approach to the body and mind, often disregarding mental illness as a valid medical condition.

Psychological conditions are sometimes attributed to spiritual possession, but more commonly to factors such as karma, or someone having put ‘nazar’ (the evil eye) on the individual, or people who have had a spell cast on them.

Though Diya’s family didn’t go to these extremes, there was a notable lack of understanding within her family of her mental illness, resulting in the non-acceptance of it. Mental disorders, within the Indian community are seen as shameful, loathsome or even worse, as a weakness.

“I can’t even count the number of times I was told to just buck up or be a stronger person. Comments like this were more harmful than they were helpful and would send me to a pit of despair. All too often, I was told that I had ‘brought this upon myself’, and I was not trying hard enough to fight it; I eventually learned to keep my feelings to myself – it was just easier to deal that way.”

“I eventually learned to keep my feelings to myself – it was just easier to deal that way.” – Diya

The stigma attached to mental illness within Indian communities deters people from seeking the help they need, and it is common for sufferers of mental illness to instead focus on psychosomatic ailments (i.e. headaches, lethargy, dizziness, etc). This is due to the thinking that seeking help of health care professionals is much more acceptable than that of mental health professionals.

Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone’s admission that she suffers from depression has played a big role in bringing attention to mental illness, opening it up for discussion throughout Indian communities worldwide.

She is said to be launching an awareness campaign for depression in order to shed some light on the condition.

A study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2011 revealed Indians are among the world’s most depressed, particularly women. WHO also found that India is one of the countries with the highest suicide rates.

“Tackling depression is lonely; it’s especially lonely when your own family fails to understand what you’re going through,” Diya says. “It’s a two way street, but eventually it becomes more exhausting trying make them understand.”

It is only in the last year that Diya’s family have made a conscious effort to educate themselves on mental illness: “This is when I felt more able to accept myself and my condition,” she told us.

“It’s a part of me, and it has taken me ten long years to finally acknowledge it. I feel like this is a positive step to learning how [not only to] live with but also confront and control my condition.”

“Tackling depression is lonely; it’s especially lonely when your own family fails to understand what you’re going through,”

“We do not understand our daughter’s mental illness fully, and I don’t think we ever will,” her mother, 45, confessed. “But we are trying our best to inform ourselves, in the hope of becoming her support system.”

“I tried to figure out where I had gone wrong in my upbringing of Diya – I sometimes feel like I’ve fallen short as a mother. It hurts me when I see the severity of her lows, and sometimes feel at a loss for how help her.”

This type of thinking is common among Indian parents, which is another reason mental health awareness in India, and among Indian families is imperative.

“I’ve tried time and time again to console my mum, telling her that my condition is simply an ailment, like the flu,” says Diya. “But that’s just backward Indian mentality for you. It will only change once we start to educate ourselves.”

Battling my mental illness has definitely become easier since my family have tried to gain an understanding of it. I never realised till now how much I needed the support of my family.”

 

Featured image by: Clare Matsushima