What it’s like to live with mental illnesses like schizophrenia in Indian society

As an Indian, if you’ve ever spoken out about feeling depressed and being offered sunshine and a new hobby instead of a doctor, you’re not alone. Put simply, the good old consensus in Indian society would have you believe that there is nothing better than mental illness. Spoiler alert: there is.

The internet has greatly contributed to raising awareness of mental health. But still, terminology like ‘paagal’ andmental Hello for people living with mental health problems prevents many from ever wanting to learn more about a patient’s struggles.

Living with a mental illness like schizophrenia in India

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I grew up with someone diagnosed with schizophrenia. According to the World Health Organization, it is “characterized by significant impairments in perception of reality and behavioral changes associated with persistent delusions, persistent hallucinations, disorganized thinking, and highly disorganized behavior,” among a range of other symptoms. The WHO also states that “stigma, discrimination and violations of the human rights of people with schizophrenia are widespread”.

The latter part is very visible in our society. In a 2018 study commissioned by the Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF), 75% of participants reported feeling likeable, but also “feelings of fear (14% would always be afraid), hate (28% feel hate sometimes or always), and anger (43% sometimes or always feel angry) towards people with mental illness.”

Lack of empathy towards people dealing with mental health issues

Our society needs to learn how to deal with people with mental illness
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Growing up in the late ’90s and early ’90s, I experienced this indifference firsthand as I watched this adult undergo intense scrutiny. You don’t deserve any of this. One can attribute the lack of awareness to a lack of viable resources, but empathy should hardly be a concept too difficult to grasp, especially for adults.

However, I’ve learned that adults — for all their education and wisdom about the world — hardly bat an eyelid before poking fun at a mental illness, sometimes right in front of the person going through it. One can imagine how that is received.

The stigma of mental illness

Lack of awareness of mental illness
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Over the years, I’ve begun to notice how people react to mental illness, to someone entering therapy or speaking out about their mental health just to get a semblance of hope that things aren’t so bad. While some people understand and empathize, many still don’t know how to respond to something as necessary and relevant as a therapy session.

Even in 2022, many haven’t learned how to treat people in mental health crisis with respect, and it shows. I say this because there is no shortage of people who still use harmful, unfriendly terminology; who believe that it is necessary to think happy thoughts and stay positive in order to beat mental illness (it is not); continue to trivialize and, above all, think that mental health problems do not deserve anyone’s attention.

To make matters worse, “all is well” is repeated a hundred times, as if it were enough to treat an intellectual disability. Seeing therapy or seeing a psychiatrist for counseling, on the other hand, are topics best discussed in hushed conversations, if at all.

People with mental illness face society’s anger, scrutiny, isolation, and lack of ignorance on a daily basis. You can equate it with a physical illness and make comparisons, but why are we still at this stage today?

Stigma keeps patients from sharing their struggles

What Indian society needs to learn about mental illness
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It goes without saying that such stigma and condemnation often discourages people with mental health problems or illnesses from speaking up publicly and seeking help. It causes them to internalize guilt and feel even more trapped.

On the surface, people diagnosed with mental illness might be just like everyone else. But they’re going through something the rest of us can’t even imagine. So wouldn’t it be absolutely terrifying to be left alone and feeling isolated?

The least we can do as a society that often claims to be progressive is to be kind to people and give them the respect they deserve. You really never know what someone is going through.

Lead and Social Image Credits: Excel Entertainment, Bipin Vohra

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