Monday, 20 March 2017

The Stigma attached to Mental Health

We do so much to keep ourselves physically healthy. We exercise, we eat the right kind of things, and we eat the right amount. Still, we do become sick from time to time. What do we do in this situation?

We either self medicate (not a good idea) or we go to a doctor. He/she asks gives us medicines and asks us to do or not do a few things and before we know it, we are fit again. On most occasions, its is simple. 

Adult usually go to the doctor all by themselves in case they are not extremely sick. We know its important to do so. Sometimes, our family and friends advice us to go to a doctor. In extreme cases, they take us to the doctor. 

We do all of this for our physical well-being. 

What about our mental well being? 

How many times have you heard someone share that they are going to a doctor? Now compare it to the number of times someone has shared that they are going to a psychiatrist? 

For most of us, the answer to the second question would be in single digits or even zero. Why is that the case? 

According to me, there are four reasons for it:

1. No one things mental health is something that needs to be treated - A lot of times, depression or anxiety is something that is disregarded as being sad or just disturbed. When people tell others that they are feeling depressed or are feeling anxious without any reason, they are often given answers like "do something that you like", "go travel a little", "take a break". These might come from a good place but are not really solutions to a mental health problem. 

2. Social stigma attached to mental health issues - Tell someone you have a physical ailment and you get sympathy and sometimes empathy. Tell someone you have a mental ailment and usually you get contempt or misguided sympathy. Admiting that you have a mental ailment gets you branded as 'damaged'. It is as if there is no cure. Mental ailments are not seen as disease which have a cure. They are seen as defects. This results in people hiding their mental ailments which in turn makes them worse or struggle even more to recover from mental ailments given the additional societal pressure.  

3. Lack of awareness about mental health issues - Sometimes, people aren't even able to recognize that they have a mental illness. When it not identified, it is definitely not going to be treated. It results in the situation getting worse. Unfortunately, awareness about them is really low and there are very few opportunities where they can be identified and worked on. 

4. Lack of professionals in the field - Finding a psychiatrist is not easy. The number of psychiatrists in any place will be much lower than the number of physicians and this in a country where we already have very few physicians doctors. Thankfully this part is changing in India with a lot of professionals coming into the field in the recent years. Peer recommendation has increase both the trustworthiness and availability of psychiatrists. 

Mental health is as important if not more important as physical health. It affects our work, our minds and our way of life as much as physical health. It does a lot of damage in the short term and the long term. Couple if with the issues mentioned above and you have yourselves a potential epidemic which if it happens will not be talked about openly. 

What are some of the things we can do until the time that someone does something?

1. If we come to know of people who are facing mental health issues, encourage them and support them to go seek professional help. Provide every kind of support that person needs. 

2. Create safe spaces to give people the opportunity to discuss mental health issues. 

3. Talk about mental health issues openly from time to time so that more people are aware of what they are and what to look out for. It will probably help people identify the illness. It might also inadvertently encourage someone to either open up about it or seek professional help. 

I am sure there might be a lot of things that we can do. A lot has happened over the last few years and I am sure that a lot will happen over the coming years as well. I just keep thinking about the people who suffer in these situations just because society's understanding of their situation has not evolved. I know it is not easy but it is really really important. 

I think the aim should be make going to a psychiatrist as okay as it is to go to a physician. 

P.S. - I am not a mental health professional. If you have a curated list of psychiatrists then do share it in the comments. I have never been to a psychiatrist. I have known and know people who have faced above mentioned situations and other situations like these. I know how much it can take out of a person and how deeply it can affect everything that person does. I sometimes feel frustrated that I don't know anything that I can do. 

P.P.S. - If there are any factual inaccuracies in the above post, please do let me know. I have written the above post from limited experiences I have had or have read about. I am reading more about it and my knowledge and understanding on the above subject will keep changing.