Caveat: akhilvaani started came into being in 2017 as a considered response to removal of stigma around Mental Illness. It is also a decisive platform which aims to create awareness by encouraging sufferers, care givers and other stakeholders to Own Up, Open Up and Talk Mental Illness. akhilvaani through the non invasive source of e-mail puts up certain questions to those who wish to talk and the answers are published here, as they are received without any addition, deletion, modification or editing.
In this edition, akhilvaani talks to Ms. Shayonee Das Gupta a Lawyer by profession and young crusader for the cause of Mental Health. Here we go
”Dear Ms. Shayonee Das Gupta, Welcome to Akhilvaani.blog which is a platform to Own-Up, Open-Up and Talk Mental Illness and issues related to Mental Health. Its reason for existence is to remove stigma one step at a time one person at a time.. It seeks to change the discourse and narratives around the mental illness in the country. Here is the first question you may liketo answer- “Ms, Shayonee tell us briefly about you, who you are what your vocation is and what has been your life journey so far”
I’m based out of Mumbai. I’m a lawyer by training and I currently freelance as a content writer. I graduated from WB National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata in 2012 and started my career with a leading law firm in Mumbai.
Question 2:Also tell us to the extent you want to tell what is your passion.(you can tell anything and everything you want to tell in free-flowing manner. We want the readers to get a feel of who you are)?
I’m passionate about making a difference in the lives of all living beings around me in any manner that I can.
Question 3:It will be enlightening for our readers to know what has been your personal connect with the mental illness, including but not limited to your primary conditions.
I was formally diagnosed with major depressive disorder, anxiety and chronic fatigue in 2018.
It was good to finally have a diagnosis because I had been battling with the symptoms for a long time without knowing what was happening to me.
Like most others, I dismissed it in the beginning as I was afraid to come to terms with it. When I did reach out to the people around me, the usual response was to take a holiday and relax. I wish that I had the wisdom to seek help sooner.
Question 4:As you have identified Depression and Anxiety as your primary conditions, can you give us insight into what could have been the triggers in your case. You are free to tell or not tell any special childhood or later year stressors which could have caused or aggravated the condition. Give us a primer on how it all began
As a person, I suffer from extremely low-self esteem and I have battled with that through my time at college and work. So irrespective of how well I did, I never felt good enough or gave myself credit for whatever I achieved. My working environment only added fuel to the fire as mediocrity has no place in the profession.
Slowly, I reached a stage where work and the people I worked with became a trigger. I also got married two years back and I feel that no matter how modern a woman is, her life undergoes a paradigm shift with a marriage. Juggling responsibilities at home and work with a constant feeling of not doing a good job at either home or job.
This led to a lot of anger and guilt directed towards my self. Given the stressful job I had, I slept very little or at odd hours only. Sometimes I would work the whole night to meet deadlines and show up at work the next day again to do it all over again and be in a perpetual state of anxiety and constant breakdowns.
According to my psychiatrist and my therapist, these were the primary factors that led to my depression.
Question 5It is told both nature and nurture plays a role in onset of mental illness including its most common expression-the Clinical Depression. Do you think there was some genetic lability in your case (like mental illness of a close relative even if you do not want to name). Similarly can you in retrospect the environmental triggers from the past (including any specific trigger from the childhood or early adolescence).
In my case, I had an unpleasant experience when I was in school. My father was transferred to a small town in one of the southern states of India. My sister and I were the only students in the school who did not speak the local language. I found that no matter how hard I tried, I was never truly accepted as part of the community in the school.
There was little help offered by the teachers and while some students did try to be friendly, there was a general resistance to accept me. I was 15 years old around that time and to be left without any friends and a healthy ecosystem in school definitely had an impact on my mental well-being.
Also, given the nature of my father’s job, I changed schools every 3 years (I think I have been to in 6 different schools). So I never had a steady circle of friends growing up and till this day, I find it difficult to make friends and interact with people easily. It has also made me a socially anxious person – I feel fairly anxious in large gatherings and try to stay away from them.
Question 6:Stigma around Mental Illness is deeply ingrained in the Indian Society. Tell about your experience of any stigma that you have encountered in society, family, friends or neighborhood. Also as you have taken up the cause of creating awareness around mental illness at a young age, tell me your views what is needed to be done to reduce the stigma.
When I disclosed my condition to my immediate supervisor at work (even though I was under no obligation to do so), I was told that I am very brave. So I assumed that there was no stigma at all.
But over the course of time, other people around me started to joke about depression and stress which was shocking for me (and to an extent, added to my trauma). When I refused to travel for work as I was undergoing therapy at that point, I was asked to be more professional. I think the reason was that no one takes mental illness to be a serious enough issue which is strange given that as a lawyer my mental faculties are my biggest asset.
Once I quit my job to focus on my recovery, every time a client called to ask why did I leave, I came up with ‘health reason’ as an excuse as I wasn’t ready to be stigmatized again.
But one day scrolling through Twitter, I came across a few posts and saw that there were countless other warriors of mental illness who were out there and talking about it!
Around this time, I also read the ‘The D Word’ by Shubhrata Prakash around the same time. That’s when I decided that unless I speak up, I cannot expect the stigma to go away.
In my opinion, the more we speak – the more we encourage other people to speak – we will be able to generate awareness about mental illness. People need to be made aware of the fact that being mentally ill does not make us a butt of all jokes or incapable of leading a normal life. Mental health needs to become a part of mainstream conversation and it is in everyone’s interest that we do so.As a lawyer, I am committed to make legal community more aware about these issues as depression and anxiety is extremely among within lawyers.
Question 7:You are one of the few user survivors of Mental Illness who has had the courage to disclose about your Depression at your workplace. Tell about the support you have received at your workplace if any to manage your Depression. Also tell from your experience what improvements/ accommodation are needed to make workplace more inclusive for mentally ill in the country.
Unfortunately, I did not receive support from the people who were in a position to provide it. But I must put it on record that the HR at my office was exceptionally empathetic and went out of her way to help. I also had a few close confidants who were there to support me.
I feel that in any high stress job, the management needs to ensure that a counselor is available so that people can reach out and speak about their issues freely. But before any of that, every workplace in India needs to be made aware of what mental well-being is, what is a mental illness and how can a person support someone who has a mental illness. This has to be the starting point.
Question 8:Depression often is considered as weakness and or character flaw of a person. The deep rooted stigma also forces the sufferer to be in denial mode. Have you ever battled such a situation in your long fight with the illness
I took time to understand that I need to seek help because I was not ready to accept that something was wrong with my mental health.
I assumed that it was a phase that would pass.
Question 9:One thing is for certain that despite your Depression you are a successful legal professional. What role psychiatric medicines have played in your well being. And other than medicines what other things (therapy, meditation, yoga, walking, exercise) have helped you.
The medication helps to stabilize my moods. I undergo therapy as well. Exercise has been on my schedule though I struggle to keep up with it on my bad mental health days.
Question 10:There is a small (and growing ) group of Indian youngsters who think medication is not the necessary part of armamentarium of a sufferer to deal with severe mental illnesses. What suggestion do you have to give them?
I am a big believer of ‘to each his own’.
If someone is not comfortable with medication, they don’t have to take it.
My only suggestion would be to seek some form of professional help and make an informed choice.
Question 11:Depression comes with deep-seated distress and inexplicable sadness where the person finds himself/herself mired in hopelessness, helplessness and nothingness that leads to suicidal ideation, suicide attempt and even completed suicide. Has suicidal ideation ever bogged you down. If yes, how have you managed it?
Several times! It takes a lot of self-talk to get out of it. I usually try to divert my mind or journal my thoughts.
Question 12:One of avowed goals of akhilvaani is Mission Zero Suicide India. Tell us what is needed to be done for prevention of suicides in the country
I think there needs to be more awareness about the simple fact of life that perfection and success cannot be the only thing in life to chase.
Human are infallible and making mistakes is OK!
It is not worth ending a beautiful life.
In this age of consumerism and social media, most people tend to believe that everyone else’s life is as picture perfect as it appears which leads to unhealthy comparison and a feeling of worthlessness.
While I am not a parent but I would like this opportunity to request the parents to not create unnecessary pressure on their kids to excel in life or unfairly compare their kids to others. Instead, focus on teaching them basic values like compassion and empathy. That is what makes a successful human being.
Question 13:If I recap, in personal life, you have made it a point to be open about your depression and treatment and that you have been very lucky to have extremely supportive family, friends and colleagues. From your experience, what message you would like to give to society in general and family, friends and employers in particular as to how to make life of a mentally ill more fulfilling.
If someone is exhibiting signs of mental distress and if you are able to understand that, then try not to trivialize it.
Be empathetic and give them a patient hearing.
If necessary, reach out to professionals who can provide the correct advise.
Most importantly, be aware that mental well being is important and mental illness can strike anyone – it transcends race, class, gender and ethnicity.
And there is nothing to be ashamed about if someone is mentally ill. Do not pity them – instead, give them the courage and hope that they will be able to overcome it.