The narrative surrounding mental health in India is undergoing a positive change. Millennials and Gen-Zs are now comfortable talking about their issues, going for therapy and even sharing memes to normalise it further. This development was even reflected in the recent Budget announcement where a national tele-mental health programme was introduced to provide 24×7 free counselling and care to people.
While the pandemic wreaked havoc on the lives of many, it has also been an eye-opener to the loopholes regarding certain issues in our system, mental health being one of them. Dr Jyoti Kapoor, senior psychiatrist, says, “As the basic necessities of survival are met, people start focusing on well-being. And with the extreme stress our current lifestyle exposes us to, people are able to see the side effects. With social media letting mental health professionals reach out to a larger population, taboo around mental health issues is reducing.”
Arantha Mascarenhas, a 25-year-old Mumbai resident, was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. While she had always had symptoms and brushed them under the carpet, when the world stopped in 2020, she was forced to face the reality. “The exercises and methods taught during therapy have given me a whole new perspective. They showed me how to deal with my emotions, how to look at life through a positive lens and, most importantly, they gave me hope. I’ve learnt to not let people’s negativity affect me. I’m not just surviving, I’m thriving,” she says.
With people getting more and more comfortable with therapy, consultant psychiatrist Dr Kedar Tilwe says many are now walking in by themselves to seek help. “They are not hesitant to seek help for what were thought of as lesser concerns earlier like sleep disturbances, anger management and relationship issues,” he adds.
Maryse Saldanha, a music educator from Mumbai, began going to therapy after coming out of an abusive relationship. Initially, she was hesitant to seek help as she was afraid of being judged. But not anymore. While she is open about it at work and with her friends, her family is still a rocky patch to cover. Coming from a conservative and religious background makes it harder for her to open up to them, she shares. However, that doesn’t deter her. She says, “I think it is important to normalise conversations around mental health and therapy because it benefits us in so many ways. As someone in the field of education, there is a lot of awareness and discussions about mental health, but it doesn’t necessarily extend to the teachers in the same way as there is a fear of being seen as less capable or inefficient.”
An expensive solution
But acceptance isn’t the only barrier to cross. With steep prices, therapy and other related services remain inaccessible for many. Richa Vashista, mental health expert, says, “While the conversation is changing in India, the stigma has not disappeared entirely. People are suggested yoga or exercise for mental health issues rather than therapy because it is not very affordable or accessible. At times, even people who want to go for therapy second-guess themselves because of the cost involved and the effort that goes into it.”
Free helplines, tele-psychiatry services, community awareness, and greater community outreach can help bridge this gap. With occasional discounts and even free sessions, some therapists are also trying to reach out to those in need.
Indian celebs keep the conversation going
Deepika Padukone: Diagnosed with clinical depression in 2014, the actor said during a Clubhouse session last year, “I would feel empty and directionless. It just felt like life had no purpose. I got professional help in the form of a therapist and a psychiatrist… I have to work every single day on myself to be able to get to a place where I don’t go back to that space again.”
Kailash Kher: In a 2018 interview, the singer told HT, “I had lost a lot of money, and my world had come to a standstill. I was in depression for a year and I had decided to take my life. I jumped into the river, but a friend saved me. It is not that I don’t get sad or depressed today. But I immerse myself in my music and all the pain slowly disappears.”
Anushka Sharma: Taking to her social media in 2017, the actor said, “I have anxiety. And I’m treating my anxiety. Why am I saying this? Because it is a completely normal thing! More and more people should talk openly about it.“
Priyanka Chopra Jonas: In an appearance on a popular podcast recently, the actor shared, “There were phases in my life, especially after my father passed away, when I didn’t know how to deal with it. Instead of dealing with it alone, I would seek out people who actually cared about me… You have to find support.”
Hrithik Roshan: The actor has previously opened up about how the combination of his speech defect and spine scoliosis diagnosis left him feeling broken in his early 20s. His dreams of becoming an actor were struck down by his doctors because of his “disability.” He added, “Life will bring you things to challenge you but my mission is to live a good life.”
Celebs tell us the truth
Shama Sikandar, actor (opened up about her battle bipolar disorder and depression in 2021)
I feel this is the best time for awareness around mental health. I’m sure many people must have been suffering in olden times, but they never had the means to understand what was happening to them and talk about it. It is very important for all of us to hold space and talk about our mental health and ensure that people are also comfortable talking about it like they are with any other physical illness.
Nidhi Kumar, social media influencer
For me, the key to stable mental health is all about the three Ts — Talk to a Therapist Today. As creators in the public eye, it is important to ensure that our followers see us as normal human beings with common issues and that is why I make it a point to talk to my followers about how and what I am feeling. No matter what age you’re at or what you’re doing, mental health issues can crop up at any time and should definitely be addressed.