Mental Illness Is Not A Choice, Let Us Reduce Stigma And Save Lives

Mental health has always been a grey area that has been stigmatized, looked down upon as a personality flaw, and labels the affected individuals.

Dr. Loveena Lama, MBBS, MS (Psychology)

As a human, even for the most open-minded, judgment comes as a natural part of our conditioning. This judgment leads to prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination.

Mental health has always been a grey area that has been stigmatized, looked down upon as a personality flaw, and labels the affected individuals.

Mental health relies on subjective reports and observations to reach a final diagnosis. The cemented stigma attached to it within the society prevents an open talk, education, and unfortunately, the most crucial, emotional support which is an important pillar of the treatment.

If an illness is physical and has visible findings then it’s more real and merited, whereas mental illness without physical facts gets a label of abnormality and looked down upon. For these individuals to seek help, this has been a colossal barrier. Consequently, untreated mental illness becomes a burden at both an individual and societal level.

This misunderstanding where individuals are usually called as “unmotivated”, “weak”, “lazy”, “can’t control” etc. leads to a vicious circle of fear, aggression, instability, and violence.

Unlike other chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, cancer which I would say are physical illnesses, society has more sympathy, support, and acceptance. Just see the number of relatives and friends flocking to see a person who just had a stroke or a heart attack or diagnosed with cancer.

The emotional support that is poured out for them is really endearing. It is almost comical to think of someone paying a special visit to a friend or a relative because he or she got diagnosed with anxiety or depression or other psychotic affliction.

When it is already alone “in” there and just to portray that Ione is afloat, knowing that quick change within can pull you down again the slippery road, one is always hanging by a thread.

To understand this circle of embarrassment, feeling of being judged, shame and isolation, it is best to reach out to these individuals with empathy and more importantly, respect.

On a personal level, I would say not stereotyping them and seeing them as people and not diagnosis. As a community, there should be more openness and willingness to talk and that too respectfully.

Educating the families and telling them the real facts about what the loved ones are going through should be an equally important role of the treating provider. Such a situation demands and needs a multipronged approach of which medications are only one part of and not panacea.

In real, altered thought processes as a result of chemical changes is enough of a load to deal with. As it was nicely said in “3 Idiots”, there is no instrument to measure the “pressure on the brain”. Society should not add on to it but to support the recovery should be the goal.

Just like sex and sexual preferences are more openly discussed, it is about time we become more sensitive about mental illness. I hope that in near future, we will have movies on these subjects just like we have had “Shubh, Mangal, Zyada Savdhan” or documentaries on trans-genders.

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