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Mental Illness in India

Even today, people still have a lot of stereotypes about mental illness, and one of them is that it’s a “First World” problem, meaning that people in poorer places don’t have time for mental illness.  But studies consistently find that rates of severe mental illness are pretty constant across economic, religious, cultural and geographic boundaries.  Here are some stories from India:

“Bollywood” is the commonly used name for the huge Hindi film industry that reaches more than a billion people across South Asia and throughout their diaspora around the world.  This article from an India-based news service collects quotes from Bollywood celebrities about their struggles with mental illness.  Even if you have never heard of these stars or the movies they act in, their words about mental health and illness are poignant.

Interestingly, they are able to quote as many men as women speaking openly about their experiences of depression.  Here’s the actor Varun Dhawan: “I was feeling down. I wasn’t clinically depressed, but I was on my way there. To some extent, I was depressed. Because depression is a serious illness, I don’t want to use the term loosely. It had a significant impact on my mental health. I was prescribed [medication] and did see a doctor for it as well.”

One famous actress, Deepika Padukone,  shared her experience of depression noting that she tried to distract herself with work and being around people, “but the nagging feeling didn’t go away. My breath was shallow, I couldn’t concentrate, and I frequently broke down”.  Her concern for others led her to found an organization that raises awareness of mental health issues in South Asia.

Artists often have ways of expressing themselves that can reveal more than the words alone.  Actress Anushka Sharma said: “Depression is a prison where you are both the suffering prisoner and the cruel jailer”.  She also said through her social media, “I am anxious and I am treating my anxieties. I am taking medicine for anxiety. What am I trying to say? Because it is completely normal. This is a biological problem. In my family, there have been instances of depression. More and more individuals should talk about it freely. There is no shame in this, and there is nothing to hide. If you had a constant stomach ache, wouldn’t you see a doctor? It’s that simple. I want to make this my mission, to take any shame out of this, to educate people about this.”

Whether your home culture is “conservative” or “liberal” mental health is a real issue in family after family.  Across the globe and across the street, more and more people, both famous and obscure are speaking out and helping us all move beyond stigma to supportiveness.