A decade back activist Tarana Burke started #MeToo movement to kick-start mutual support and solidarity between survivors of sexual abuse. But the hashtag got the traction and became viral overnight in 2017 once Alyssa Milano used it in support of friend Ross McGowan’s allegation of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein.
The 2017 and 2018 events are best captured by Time Magazine below.
“The groundbreaking anti-sexual assault and women’s empowerment movements #MeToo and Time’s Up upended public conversation about women’s issues around the world in 2017 and 2018 and elevated global consciousness surrounding the obstacles women encounter in their daily lives, both personal and professional.The #MeToo movement has become a worldwide phenomenon, searched on Google in 196 countries in the past year. The culture shift has been palpable — for the first time ever, the world has been put on notice that these once-fledgling women’s movements were not to be ignored. And people started to listen. TIME magazine named The Silence Breakers as the 2017 Person of the Year, honoring not one individual, but all of the women involved – and the cause as a whole”
Why hashtag #IndiaMeTooMentallyIll
I Time’s UP” for India to jump start the movement-#IndiaMeTooMentallyIll. Some may ask, why to be copy-cat. But I believe, use of phrases// hashtags that have received global acceptance is better than reinventing the wheel. In past one decade, to create awareness about mental health I have used borrowed phrases “Jago Re Bharat” and “Wake Up India” with impunity with some humbling success
A Caveat and Disclosure First
Most think I am the first Indian who went public about Mental Illness. I agree, ever since I was diagnosed sufferer of “Clinical Depression” (1997) and “Bipolar Disorder (1998), I have purposely followed Glasnost about mental illness in personal and professional life. Also from 2004 onward, all my discourses, including professional presentations as management consultant start with the opening slide, titled-
“Disclosure: The presenter suffers from Bipolar Disorder. He alternates between insidious flame out of Mania and numbness of Depression. He currently is in Remission”
In 2008 I opened up about my Bipolar Disorder on my blog-site “Bipolar Stroke” and have written about since then. Also on 5th November, 2009, the leading Business daily “Mint” (A Hindustan Times Publication)- carried a front page story titled-“Akhileshwar Sahay: Life Learning from One Man’s Fight with Bipolar Disorder”, Post that my “Madness and Sadness” has been regular feature in national print and visual media.
But was I the first to start the movement #IndiaMeTooMentallyIll.
My answer is an emphatic no.
Truth beckons, much before me (probably 25 years back), a lady in Karnataka wrote a book on her Bipolar Disorder. Few know about her, because the book in Kannada is out of circulation. Also, few know of Late Dr. Jagannath Wani . He was first caregiver in 1970s to own, talk and write about his wife Kamalini’s fight with Schizophrenia. His book “An Unarranged Life: Mentally Ill wife’s husband turns Tragedy into opportunity” ( 2017) published days before his death is bible for every sufferer and caregivers. Dr. Waani founded many institutions. In India his baby is Pune based Schizophrenia Awareness Association- SAA. It has completed 20 years of existence.
My story rests here.
I dare say, India “Time’s Up” to jump-start the movement #IndiaMeTooMentallyIll.
But why #IndiaMeTooMentallyIll now.
Here are my Ten reasons-
One, when I opened up in 1997, I was a lone ranger. At least this is what I thought. Last two decades have changed the landscape. There has been gradual but distinct shift in at least educated Indian’s slowly starting to own-up, open-up and talk about their mental illness.
I can see every week one new person owning-up, opening-up and talk mental illness.
Two, since the arrival of social media- Face book, Twitter etc, there has been a surge in even the most vulnerable groups- youth brigade starting to open up about their mental illness. Probably, the sudden surge gives them a vicarious feeling they are not alone
Three, from 2010 onward governments have upped the ante.For the sake of brevity I mention three seminal developments- National Mental Health Policy (2014), National Mental Health Survey (2016) and Mental Health Care Act (2017). These are path breaking developments which are going to re-write the future of mentally health of India.
Four, many institution in Mental Health arena have done path breaking work for decades- few are mentioned here- The Banyan and SCARF in South India, Sangath, Schizophrenia Awareness Association, Bapu Trust and Centre for Mental Health Law and Policy at ILS, Pune in Western India, Anjali Mental Health and Iswar Sankalpa in Eastern India and Asha Deep in North Eastern India. These are are only few of the many names.
Five, many institutional donors have done exemplary work in the mental health arena. These include but are not limited to Tata Trusts, Ajim Prem Ji Foundation, Mariawala Trust, Hans Foundation and many more.
Six, social media and internet has resulted in to new age support groups which are encouraging people to own up and open up about mental illness- few are mentioned here- Bipolar India, It is Ok to Talk, White Swan Foundation etc. On its 25th anniversary, The Other Identity Book” released by The Banyan, has the story of resilience of 25 mentally ill persons most except one of them are ordinary souls.
Seven, more than a dozen Bollywood celebrities have publicly owned up their mental illness. Many are actively working to improve life of mentally ill. As their names are well known, I am not repeating here.
Eight I dare say it is apt time- rather “time’s up” India to kick start #IndiaMeTooMentallyIll movement. Any mental health conference, I attend I find the subset from same 500 people in attendance. The cancer of mental illness, is exacerbating fast- 16% of Indian’s need intervention today (National Mental Health Survey, 2016 data). More are getting sucked in the vicious cycle daily. But deep rooted societal stigma and discrimination refuses to make country a more inclusive place for mentally ill
Stigma robs mentally ill, of the most important thing they need- “HOPE”.
Nine, social anthropologist Margret Mead famously said – “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”. Possibly few hundred Indians, committed to stamp out stigma and create awareness about mental illness, may change India, but then it will be “100 Year War”. Given the pandemic mental illness has already turned into, country needs an army of millions foot soldiers-
“who shout daily #IndiaMeTooMentallyIll”
Ten or should I say reason, “Zero”. Time to start is now. Tomorrow will be too late.
When I started on the less traveled road of “Aekla Chalo in 1997, I was not yet forty. In two moths, I will turn 60. Worse, the combined onslaught of Bipolar Disorder, Diabetes and the latest cohort killer non-curable Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Stage II has reduced my fire power and has put a serious question mark on my own longevity.
But friends the show has to go on. India need to say-“Picture Abhi Baaki Hain Mere Dost”.
That is why I say, start the journey today, rather now. It is time to Dare to Bare.
As Gandhiji once said -Be the change you want to see.
And proudly say- #IndiaMeTooMentallyIll