It sure seems like we celebrate a lot of different days. I’m thinking about Chocolate Day, Mother’s Day, Secretary’s Day and suchlike. I often find that by trying to celebrate everything, we’ve trivialized the purpose of having specific milestones in a calendar year.
In that vein, I expect that World Mental Health day will make a very minor blip on most people’s radars and slowly sink into oblivion. I’m already starting to see articles about celebrity and royalty endorsements for the day, I imagine Pierce Brosnan may extend his recently earned ‘Pan Parag’ goodwill to this day. Perhaps Delhi Times will carry a piece on how depression is no longer in vogue this season.
On a more serious note, I see Twitterverse having conversations about mental illnesses and share resources. We at Feminism in India have run a campaign inviting people to send us their artwork to stamp out the stigma associated with mental illnesses in India. I see people talking about work being done in mental healthcare in India by organizations that I did not know about. I watch people owning and sharing their stories with grace. I read yet another open letter (I would recommend you read this one as well). I expect there will be some crass jokes about what it means to be ‘mental’ and more. Perhaps Deepika Padukone may talk about her struggle.
What I do know is that even if all of these conversations take place, it is only the tip of the iceberg that is the mental health crisis in India. Forget preventive and curative interventions, we are still woefully inadequately set up for diagnosing mental illnesses. Where survival is often a question, everything else is brushed aside. Poverty and mental illnesses can compound each other. As a country, India only spends 0.06% of the health budget on mental healthcare. For every 1 million people, there are just 3 psychiatrists, and even fewer psychologists and conservative estimates indicate that at least 6% of the Indian population lives with at least one mental illness.
I am still searching for relevant and robust stats on mental illnesses in India (as far as I can tell, they don’t exist on a national level, head over to this document on mental health in India by WHO and look at the number of categories for which data is unavailable). The National Institute on Mental Health and Neurosciences is piloting a study in Kolar which is meant to be extended nationwide and that gives me hope. Of course, there is constant, often thankless work being done locally in mental healthcare (head over to www.indianjpsychiatry.org to find thought-provoking, if academically-worded study and research results about various mental illnesses).
For me, this is why World Mental Health day matters! It is because my country (as a stereotyped whole) would rather believe in devils and witches than in mental illnesses. It is because as a group we would much rather label it as a ‘western problem’ than deal with it. It is because at this very moment, people who are considered mentally ill, are chained, treated inhumanely across the country. It is because some of us are jumping too fast towards medicines and medicines alone. It is because I know of someone who committed suicide and perhaps you do as well — do you talk about it? It is also because I know that suicides tend to occur in clusters and that suicides are not always a consequence of a mental illness. It is because I have heard family members often refer to mental illnesses as weaknesses — if it is a woman, refer to it as something wrong in her uterus or worldview, if it is a man, it is a problem with his manliness. It is because I have seen the shaming, the death sentence a mental illness can become — from the workplace till home. So perhaps for one or few of these reasons, I can persuade you to pay a little attention to World Mental Health day and carry that with you throughout the year.
In solidarity, support and resilience.