Happiness can be found in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.
Almost 20 years ago, JK Rowling wrote those words for Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series. With more than 150 million Indians suffering from some form of a mental health concern, this quote is desperately relevant in the context of mental health in our country.
Every month, the number of people dealing with mental health concerns is increasing. Once upon a time, mental health concerns were perceived as ‘something that happened to others’ but today, depression alone affects one in 20 Indians. A large majority of these people will never seek help for their situation either because of the stigma associated with it, the fear of losing control over one’s life, or simply because there is no access to mental health care.
The darkness around mental health is because of stigma—take that away, and people will be free to discuss mental health openly, to find acceptance and support, and to seek help for it. It will empower them to ask for more mental healthcare initiatives and to call for the improvement of mental healthcare facilities in every part of the country.
Can it even be done in a country of our size?
There was a time when India was facing a health crisis due to polio and estimations by global agencies considered India to be the most challenging region of the world to eliminate polio. Thanks to the immense awareness and immunisation drives that started in the early 90s, polio has been eradicated in India.
If only we can get over the stigma and accept that it’s normal for the mind to be unwell, then we can focus on turning our considerable resources to eradicate stigma and improve mental wellness in the country.
But, I’m just one person. What can I do to make a difference?
Here are five things we can all do to dispel the darkness and to turn the light on when it comes to mental health.
There’s a popular saying “we fear what we don’t understand and what we fear we seek to destroy”. It’s terrifying to think that our minds could get unwell from time to time. It helps to seek to learn more about mental health, about mental health concerns and what causes them. Share what you learn with your friends and family, so that you can spread awareness.
The more you can talk about the ‘M-word’ without fear or shame, the more you will inspire others around you to do the same. Start and support conversations about mental health in your circles, whether it’s online, in school or at work. There are a lot of NGOs and organisations like Mpower that are championing awareness drives in the community. You could participate in these events and join the tribe of mental health warriors who’re working to make a difference.
Just by being a good listener and being there for someone who’s going through a hard time can make a world of difference. Sometimes it’s important for people to know that they are not alone. Ask them how they’re doing and mean it, and listen without judgement. It’s okay if you don’t have the answer to their problem. Being a good friend or colleague and just supporting them through their ordeal also matters.
It makes a huge impact when you can see the person and not the illness they’re fighting. It’s important to be sensitive with the words we use when we talk about mental health because it’s easy to reduce a person to just the illness they’re dealing with. Instead of saying “she’s depressed”, say “she’s fighting depression”. Instead of using words like “victim of”, “suffering from”, or “affected by”, use words like “is fighting”, “is being treated for” and “has overcome”.
This is perhaps the most common fear that we all have when it comes to mental health. We fear that it will take over our lives, debilitate us, and mean the end of careers, family life and our overall potential in life. More than the shame and the fear of ridicule, this is the most dangerous myth that is propagated because of stigma.
Everyone needs to know that dealing with a mental health concern is not the end of life as you know it. Most mental health concerns can be prevented, treated and overcome and the goal of all mental healthcare treatment plans is to help the person live as fulfilling a life as possible.
Starting right now, let’s try to be a hero for mental health, and let’s take a step, however small, to do our bit to #TurnTheLightOn for mental health awareness. It could start with sharing a post, a tweet or by just having a heart to heart conversation with someone who’s going through a rough time.
After all, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the bravest stories, is that sometimes we find heroes in the most unlikely place, and sometimes we must be our own hero.
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