Of hushed whispers behind closed doors
What will people say?
An excited teen returns from a store empty handed, because the shirt he chose was pink and his dad did not want their neighbours thinking his son was gay. An older couple tamp down on their desire to physically show affection in a public setting, lest their relatives remark on their unseemly conduct. A young girl’s horrifying story of sexual abuse by a family member is kept under the wraps by her parents, because what will people say? The mental illness that followed, the therapy and support she needed, remained wisps of an idea, stuffed in a forgotten closet.
Wikipedia says social stigma is“the disapproval of, or discrimination against, a person based on perceivable social characteristics that serve to distinguish them from other members of a society. Social stigmas are commonly related to culture, gender, race, intelligence and health.”
Perhaps the most destructive form of stigma is that against mental health and conversely, mental illness. At the grassroots level, it starts at home. While physical illnesses with tangible evidence are given all the care in the world, the invisible wounds that fester slowly are considered non-existent.
I’m going to attempt to be candid here. I recently had a conversation with my mother where I asked her if she would take me to therapy or be okay with me consulting a therapist on my own. I genuinely wanted to know the answer. Her reaction was to look at me very seriously and tell me to keep quiet. When I insisted, she burst into tears and hissed out the Kannada equivalent of, “you shouldn’t say things like that.” For a moment there, I was dumbfounded. Was this the same woman who agreed to let me pursue psychology, in a world full of Sharma ji ka betas who were engineers and doctors?
I won’t lie. I fought tooth and nail to be studying and working in this field, but I was proud to not-so-secretly nurse the fact that my parents acknowledged my interests. However, after years of listening to my rants, classroom debates, preparations for exams, internships and a truckload of experiences, my own mother, proved to me that the mental health stigma is very real and very present.
Perhaps it is a generational fault or an individual one, I couldn’t say. The crux of the matter is that all talk of mental health, illness and care was shut down in that instant.
A skinned knee is treated with an antiseptic, whereas depression, anxiety, stress and so on are given the boot. Mental health care is approached with derision, apprehension, judgement and fear, more so than mental illness itself. People are dying, bit by bit and all at once, but we still talk about them in hushed whispers behind closed doors.
There are a number of ways to combat this and while they might not work for all, it is definitely a step forward in the right direction. The easiest of all is to take yourself/someone seriously, instead of a quick dismissal. Being open about mental health, encouraging and engaging in healthy practices is necessary. Making an attempt to educate yourself and others about issues you might not know much of is also a definite plus. Being conscious of the kind of language you use and going that extra mile to offer a listening ear counts too.
Our minds are beautiful creatures that fabricate the reality we exist in. Don’t they deserve some TLC too?