In the past few years, Indian society has opened up conversations around mental health – with more studies coming up on the topic, and more individuals speaking up. A whole new ecosystem of lifestyle products and services like healthy foods, fitness centres, wearable fitness devices etc., are now complemented by attention to mental fitness as well, with even corporates deploying counselling facilities for their employees.
One of the biggest drivers behind this change, is undoubtedly Bollywood actor Deepika Padukone who spoke about her personal struggles in dealing with clinical depression and anxiety in 2014. Since then, she has formed a non-profit organisation The Live Love Laugh Foundation to spread awareness on mental health and its role in our daily lives.
Although fighting the stigma on mental health problems will be a long battle, TLLLF – among similar organisations – ensure that we are on the right path.
Deepika’s younger sister Anisha Padukone has been at the helm of TLLLF, and is a major voice in spreading awareness on mental health.
In a recent chat with MAKERSIndia in Bengaluru, she highlighted some aspects of mental health and how to be an ally for people facing these issues.
Acceptance that it can happen to anyone is essential to fight the stigma around mental illnesses.
Just like a billionaire can also get a fever or cancer, mental illnesses can also affect anyone – despite their wealth, success, or age. Anisha recounted how she could not recognise her sister’s illness for what it is at first.
“I used to think that I was aware of mental health but it was our mother who recognised that my sister may be ill when Deepika was not her true self at one point. At TLLLF, we help caregivers also to deal with such a situation.”
It is hard to accept that such a problem can affect one’s own, but putting aside the stigma and seeking help is the only way forward.
Medication is not a taboo.
Physiological changes often accompany mental illnesses, which may demand medication, depending on the stage of diagnosis for each individual. Unfortunately, the stigma around mental health makes it hard for anyone going through it to accept this.
Anisha said that Deepika herself was sceptical about taking medication. “Initially Deepika said she was happy to see a therapist but not sure about medicines. But the therapist explained that there are some bodily changes, which will get better with medication – just like for any other illness.
And it is important so that the disease will not escalate and will be harder to recover from. Depending on the stage of detecting the illness, you may need the help of both a therapist and a psychiatrist.”
Make it a routine to see a therapist.
It does not matter how much your dear and near ones want to help you get through a mental illness. Only a professional can guide you on how to do it. One may often worry about how they are being judged when speaking to a friend or a family member about feeling mentally ill.
The best thing about talking to a professional therapist is that they are giving you advice or guiding you in recovery without any prejudice, judgment, or personal equation getting in the way. Anish elaborated,
“There is nothing wrong with going to a therapist once in a while even if you are not particularly ill. It’s about learning to cope with the tough times that we live in.”
Casual remarks on mental health may do more harm than help.
Most of us are guilty of throwing around terms like ‘mental’ or ‘retarded’ or ‘crazy’ - involuntarily building up the stigma around mental health. Anisha says this habit is due to lack of awareness.
“I must confess I used to do this too, but now I am more aware and I make it a point to not do this. We often say ‘depressing’ for gloomy weather. If we can’t understand a person’s behaviour, we judge it as ‘bipolar’. But for someone actually going through these issues, it’s a lot more serious. It comes down to each individual, to be more careful about the terminology we use,” she added.
Sick day leaves for mental health
Most working professionals spend more time among colleagues than with family or/and friends in a day, which makes it important to know how to be an ally to individuals going through these issues. “It is not easy to recognise like a fever, but mental illnesses often have biological manifestations. You notice it only if you are aware of it.
If someone is not feeling well, even mentally, we should be patient and understanding and give them time to feel better. Let them take a day’s leave if it will help them recover, just like in the case of a physical illness. We have created a safe space for our own employees in TLLLF, so they can talk about it at an organisational level too.”