Let’s talk about mental health, but how?

Discussing mental health is imperative for the betterment of our society. But we need to do that in a sensitive and sensible manner.

Like physical health disorders, mental health disorders can affect anyone. According to a report, a study conducted by the National Commission on Macroeconomics and Health in 2005 said that nearly 5 per cent of India’s population has common mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety. So it is imperative that we talk about it. But how do we do it in a healthy, respectful way?

Respect is key. We must wipe completely remove words like “mental,” “schizo,” “crazy” and “loonie” from our vocabulary. Calling someone by these names can be hurtful and increase stigma. If they are willing to talk to us about their mental health condition, the least we can do is respect them—not ridicule them. Also, dismissing their issues with comments like “snap out of it”, “cheer up”, “forget about it” or “pull yourself together” can not only make a person feel terrible, it may also discourage them from talking about it further.

We must never define a person by their mental illness. Referring to someone as “that schizophrenic” or “depressed person” is just wrong—they are not their illness. A person can have a mental disorder—a person is not defined by a mental disorder.

National Institute for Mental Health director Thomas Insel was quoted as saying, “We need to talk about mental disorders the way we talk about other medical disorders. We generally don’t let having a medical illness define a person’s identity, yet we are very cautious about revealing mental illness because it will somehow define a person’s competence or even suggest dangerousness.”

Kishor Adhikari, assistant professor, Department of Psychology, Christ University, Bangalore, reiterated the point and said, “Terms like ‘mental retardation’ or ‘hysteria’ have a very negative connotation attached to them. These terms are not used anymore—we need to avoid them. Even calling someone a ‘depressed person’ is wrong. The right way to do it is to say ‘a person with depression.’—this way, we describe the illness, not the person”.

Overcoming the stigma attached to mental illness is very important. People still think that it is shameful and a sign of weakness to be diagnosed with a mental illness. Talking about it in a sensitive, open manner will not only make the person feel supported and loved, but it will also sensitize other people around that person on how to talk about mental health.

Support from family and friends is important. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Support from family and friends is important. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Support of family and friends can make a world of difference. If the person knows that his/her loved ones will always stand by him/her, no matter what, he/she may be more inclined to seek help and be motivated to feel better. Simple things like, “I’ve been worried about you. Can we talk about what you are experiencing? If not, who are you comfortable talking to?”,  “What can I do to help you to talk about issues with your parents or someone else who is responsible and cares about you?” and “I am someone who cares and wants to listen. What do you want me to know about how you are feeling?” can mean the world to people.

Seeking help of mental professionals is perfectly all right. People believe that if someone goes to see a psychiatrist/psychologist, it means they must be mad. That is not the case. Sensitization and awareness is becoming increasingly necessary.

Adhikari said India needs more psychiatrists and psychologists.

“Mental health training could be provided to lower level health professionals. Also, there is no legislation to regularize the profession of psychologists—that needs to be done as soon as possible.”

Seeking medical help is not a sign of weakness. Credit: WIkimedia Commons

Seeking medical help is not a sign of weakness. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Mental health is a heavy and serious issue to be talk about—but it is important that we have the discussion. A healthy mind is a healthy body. We must make ourselves aware about mental health issues and take the necessary steps to ensure that at least our bit of the world is a healthy, happy place for everyone to live in.


Featured Image flickr CC issa


#lll-logoSpeakYourMind is a special series on mental health by The Alternative in partnership with  The Live Love Laugh Foundation. Starting Mental Health Day, Oct 10th, the series will feature voices and expert views on issues like depression and anxiety disorders and how sensitivity and timely support can help people overcome them. If you have a personal story around mental health to share, please write in to editor@thealternative.in, and we will publish it in the strictest confidence.




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