It is early days for the campaign “India: Own-Up, Open-up and Talk Mental Illness. Also the year of “Hope, Love and Pride” for Mentally Ill in India has just begun.
I am humbled by the pouring up of messages of encouragement for the national festival and am also grateful to the brave hearts coming out daily in open about their Mental Illness.
I think it is about time i bring a note of caution about Glasnost about Mental Illness and I also want to amplify what I truly mean by “India Own-Up, Open-UP and Talk Mental Illness.
- Own-Up: When I say own-up, Mental Illness, I mean you own-up your illness to you. Keep in mind that it is not your choice that you have mental illness. Also it is not a personality or character fault. It happens. It happens to even best and wealthiest. Mental illness is secularly secular. and it affects caste, class and religion with same ferocity. Some of severe forms of illnesses, like Bipolar and Schizophrenia may have a genetic or biological component but keep in mind, it is not your biology that triggers the illness but the trigger is in the nurture and environment. Also even the worst of mental illnesses can be tamed, conquered and managed if not all together cured and you can lead a perfectly normal life like any one else. It has not been easy, but I do live the life of a successful professional despite diagnosed with suffering from debilitating bipolar disorder.
- Why Own-Up: For some one suffering from mental illness, often the first thought is why me? or it is not me? or it can not happen to me? or it will go away? Owning up will make me feel deficient or defective. None of these are closer to truth. If you suffer from one or other Mental Illness, you have to just remember that 1 in 10 Indians suffer from Mental Illness at any given point of time. Worse, the incidence and severity of Mental Illness is worsening by day and the World Health Organization estimates 1 out of 4 Indians will soon suffer from one or other mental illnesses. The choice is ours- either we own up or suffer. Owning up helps you reach the correct help-be it a psychiatrist or your family doctor or therapist or family and friend. Owning up helps you feel you are not alone in the battle that there is help around. Also there is a difference between owning-up and opening up. First threshold to cross is simply- Owning- Up and accepting the fact that it is “Okay not to be Okay”.
- Opening-Up: Opening up is more complex than Owning- Up and presents the traumatic existential dilemma. Let me put a caveat here and say what I mean when I say Open-Up about your mental illness. No I do not want you to talk from the roof top that I am mentally ill. This holds more true if you are from Generation X or Generation Y, boys and girls and men and women, millennials in the first quadrant of the life cycle opening-up for you has totally different meaning. It means first own-up your self and then open up to your family, friends, (may be colleagues who understand) I call this group your “Rainbow Coalition”. It will help you to feel better. It will also make you better prepared to take the professional help. Trust me, there is no mental illness how ever severe it might be, which people have not braved and conquered with the help of family, friends, psychiatrist, therapist, medication, meditation, life-style changes and other supportive infrastructure. Though India lacks self help groups, they are emerging fast. (for starter visit Whole Mind India Foundation and Group for Suicide Prevention in India, Groups on Facebook and the page WMIF- because we Care for Your Mental Health. Also, bigger your “Rainbow Coalition” lesser the vicious cycle of stigma you will feel trapped into.
- Public Disclosure and Opening-Up Openly: This is most complex question- and “Should or should not I?” is often bedeviled by fear of rejection (amongst peer, friends and even family), chucked out of job if you are in, not getting a job, not getting a spouse, your children getting hounded if you are adult, not getting a house on rent and what not. This makes public disclosure fraught with danger particularly if you are early in life, if you are looking for job, if you are looking to marry self or your children. Keep in mind you are not Deepika Padukone or Demi Lotavo. Full public disclosure has not been easy even for them. I was always open about my “Bipolar Disorder” and “Suicidal Ideation” (Mint did a full blown cover page story on me way back in http://www.livemint.com/Home-Page/N3HhIzcx9wn45FAY11imUN/Akhileshwar-Sahay–Life-lessons-from-one-man8217s-fight.html ). But public disclosure even for me has been a mixed bag. So while making public disclosure, tread with caution. This does not mean that you should not do if you have crossed the first three stages I have described in this blog. More and more Indians go for disclosure at home, educational institutions, work place, in public, on social media, you bring the traction for stigma reduction. Once you are ready just say “Yes It Okay not to be Okay”. I am me. I am not my Mental Illness.
- And, India Let Us Talk Mental Illness: Yes it is important. What we need is carpet bombing. If you recall, only two decades back HIV/AIDS in India had biggest stigma attached around it. Where is that stigma today. The carpet bombing of making public aware at least helped stigma go underground. I recall the stigma around T.B. and Cancer around my childhood. Just remember, today stigma against Mental Illness is worse than Stigma around leprosy in 20th Century. There is stigma in school, college, work place and in society in general.Worse, one faces stigma even at Home. Unless India talks Mental Illness, this stigma will not go. The war is long, it needs millions warriors but we can win the war.
Stand up and be counted. You will be surprised I have only 200 followers on Twitter, but today, I have been deluged by 100 retweets and likes in one day, and more than ten persons disclosing their mental illness and joining the war against removing Stigma against Mental Illness. I am going to put the details of all disclosures on a separate page of this blog-site (which is still a work in progress).
India, we have silent for long. It is time for silent sufferers of Mental Illness to join the War.
Join India join. Let us celebrate 2017 as one of “Hope, Love and Pride” for Mentally ill. It is time to Own-up, Open-up and Talk Mental Illness.