In our society, when people come across an individual battling a mental health issue, they rarely acknowledge it. Even if they do, they have no idea how to treat affected individuals, writes Farhat Afzal
Growing up, I never heard anyone bring up or discuss mental health disorders. If there was someone undergoing a mental health issue, people would refer to that person simply as mad. They would point one of their index fingers in a turning motion towards their own temples to indicate that there was something not quite right with the affected person’s brain. Is our brain not the most important organ of our body? Why is the illness of the brain not given the same degree of priority as an illness of any other part of the body?
In our society, when people come across a person battling a mental disease, they rarely acknowledge it. Even if they do, they have no idea how to treat affected individuals. Nobody genuinely tries to understand what the person is going through. They begin to judge even without getting into the depth of the problem. They tend to make remarks and draw conclusions like, ‘He is not suffering from any physical illness. He has loving parents, a good education and a privileged life. What could possibly be the reason behind his depression or anxiety?’
Mental health issue can be an exceptionally pressing issue for young individuals, given the various changes they undergo in adulthood at physical, mental and emotional levels. The life of a young adult is like an emotional roller coaster ride that lasts for years. It is possible that a youth can be angst-ridden or cranky without being affected by a real mental illness; such emotions are a normal part of adolescence. But it is also true that a large number of young people are truly affected by mental illnesses. According to a literature review published by the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine in Washington DC, an average of 17 percent of young people experiences an emotional, mental, or behavioural disorder. Substance abuse or dependence was the most commonly diagnosed group for young people, followed by anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
It’s not enough to acknowledge these issues; it is of equal importance, if not more, to know the best way of dealing with them. In case of young people, it often happens that parents and guardians, decide on their behalf on how best to tackle a mental disorder without seeking professional help. That does not ensure the best outcome for the person suffering from it.
In a time of globalisation, where other countries are taking progressive steps to address the issue of mental health, Bangladesh has been terribly behind. We do not know how to differentiate between depression and post-traumatic stress disorder or from bipolar disorder to anxiety. There needs to be wider awareness regarding mental health. Worse of all, we undermine what people suffering from mental disorders are undergoing. We find ways to make a point about how people themselves are wholly responsible for their mental illness.
There are several reasons why affected people may remain silent about their condition—stigmatisation of mental health issues in our culture, lack of knowledge and awareness regarding the disorders. As a result, often they do not even realise that they are suffering from it.
People try to hide mental illnesses but at times, the illness itself can choose to remain hidden for a long duration from the person suffering from it. Secondly, even if a person does speak about it, chances are they would not be taken seriously. Peers would laugh it off; others would call the person an idle mind with a devil’s workshop. Thirdly, it can be especially hard for a mentally ill person to talk about his/her illness, mostly because it is tough to make someone else understand what he/she is going through. Often times, the stigma around mental illness makes people stay silent for so long, that they reach a breaking point and end up taking their own lives. According to a report by the National Institute of Mental Health in the United States, untreated depression is the number one cause behind suicide among teens; 90 percent of suicide victims suffer from a mental disease.
Fortunately, in recent times, several public figures have spoken out about fighting against mental disorders. This is extremely beneficial for a society like ours where mental health is not the usual topic of conversation over dinner. Famous author JK Rowling fell into a severe clinical depression when her short marriage ended after the birth of her daughter. Her condition worsened when she found herself taking care of her child while living on unemployment benefits in her late twenties. Her healing began when she first sat down to write Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, in a flat in Edinburgh. Her writing made her overcome fear and suicidal thoughts and gave her the energy to work on her passions.
In January 2015, popular Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone candidly spoke about battling anxiety and depression. She spoke about feeling empty and struggling to even get out of bed, despite being one of the most sought after and successful stars of the current Indian film industry. Afterwards, her parents made her seek help from a psychologist. When the counselling sessions did not help her, she was prescribed medication. Finally, the combination of both counselling and medication, as well as support from her family, helped her bounce back.
In our country, psychiatrists tend to prescribe anti-depressants or sedatives within the first couple of appointments. Medication is not the only solution, in many cases, counselling therapy is sufficient. Apart from counselling and medication, what can be done for a mentally ill person really depends on those around the person. A family member, friend or a loved one may help out by doing a variety of things. From something as simple as being a listener to assisting them in cleaning their rooms, preparing their meals, motivating them to get busy or focus on a passion—-there are a few ways to provide help. Very often, the most important thing one can do to help is be patient with the ill person.
It is high time our attitude regarding mental disorders changes. It is time to acknowledge that mental health issues exist and can affect young individuals, no matter how brilliant they are or how promising their future is. A person’s intellect and potential has nothing to do with his/her mental well-being. Mental illness is like an unwelcome houseguest which takes over your life and eats up your energy, leaving you in a mess. But with the right treatment and care, the healing process can begin and take effect.