What you need to know
Currently, India is in the midst of a mental health crisis. Contrasting to this situation, only 7% of Indian population report mental health problems, which becomes more significant when we consider that about 20% of world population are suffering from psychological problems. Researchers claim that this low statistic is not because of the development of mental health care system in India or other cultural beliefs that make Indians more resistant, but just because less people report their mental health problems when they need help.
What hinders them from reaching out? One prevalent factor in India causing this issue is stigma towards mental health issues. Stigmas around mental illness prevent many people from seeking help. They know that if they open up, even their closest ones often easily dismiss their experiences due to lack of awareness or misinformation. While there is much sympathy for mental health sufferers, stigmatization is still widespread.
Societal beliefs and values lead to misguided and hurtful stigma about a group. Sometimes these beliefs emerge from lack of information, and sometimes from overexposure to descriptions about the harmfulness of mental illness.
How does India perceive Mental Health?
47% have a higher judgment against people perceived as having mental illness, and 26% have fear of people as having mental illness
(How India Perceives Mental Health: TLLLF National Survey Report 2018)
- We all have ideas about what members of different groups are like, and these expectations may influence the way we interact with members of these groups. A stereotype is the collection of these ideas. Stereotypes may be either negative or positive and can be applied to virtually any racial, ethnic, or geographical group of people. In this case, the stereotype is a collection of ideas about the characteristics of people with mental illness.
- Prejudice is an undeserved, usually negative, attitude toward a group of people. Stereotyping can lead to prejudice when negative stereotypes are applied uncritically to all members of a group and a negative attitude results.
- The largest difference between prejudice and discrimination is that discrimination involves an action. When one discriminates, one acts on one’s prejudices. If someone dislikes people with mental disorders, the person is prejudiced, but if he or she refuses to hire them to work in their company, the person is engaging in discrimination.
What types of stigma are prevalent in our community?
Many people with mental health issues are misunderstood as weak or dangerous. Most prevalent stigma towards mental health in India were
- The responsibility of work and social roles are too difficult for people with mental illness
- People with mental illness are unable to control the problem
- People with mental illness are likely to be dangerous, violent, criminal or unpredictable (more than 70% of the young population of India, 2016)
- People with mental illness are cowards, lack willpower, are difficult to like, and are to blame for their problems.
- People with mental illness are less intelligent than others, or prone to changing their mind quickly
How does this affect people?
Hinders people from reaching out for help.
- They’re afraid they’ll be judged. A person who seeks therapy is considered weak and mentally unstable, and people often think there’s something wrong with them. If people with mental illness share what they think to others, they would say they should focus on work and family, and toughen up emotionally. This would stop people from seeing a therapist. In India, therapy-seekers are demotivated to such an extent that the vulnerable person goes back into their shell.
- Stigma towards mental illness can lead to self-diagnosis, which is highly likely to be inaccurate. Fear of getting treatment and their belief that they are different from people with mental illness makes them determine that they don’t have a mental illness even though they feel difficulty.
Make it difficult for already existing patients to recover.
- Especially people with anxiety disorders are affected by stigma towards mental disorders. Facing discrimination and having disadvantages in their workplace became part of their daily lives. This has a major effect of lowering their self-esteem and being hesitant to participate in society. High level of stress caused by discrimination could also worsen the symptoms or make them more vulnerable to other types of mental disorders. One example is currently existing theory explaining different population affected by PTSD(Post Traumatic Stress Disorders) in different magnitudes. Some psychologists suspect a high level of constant stress in daily life makes a person more vulnerable to being affected by PTSD when the person is confronted with a stressful environment, such as experiencing natural disasters or witnessing war.
Lack of information
- Considering the Indian context, the social distance was determined to a greater degree by lack of knowledge about how to treat people with psychological disorders rather than the idea that patients can do harm. These concepts vary among the community as the different belief that is held within the community has a direct influence, and can also be found in the belief of the young population. Allopathic, ayurvedic(traditional Indian system of medicine), and homeopathic treatment was believed to treat mental illness, or in some other cases, prescription drugs or hospitalization was necessary. Another misconception includes believing that mental illness was principally due to genetic or supernatural causes, thus believing that widely used therapy is not applicable to any type of mental illness, or myths that mental illness is infectious or due to a non-vegetarian diet.
- To attribute mental health issues to factors outside of personal or social control may also be linked to the belief that interventions to alleviate such problems are beyond one’s control. Young people also believed that people with mental illness could be recognized more easily than those with physical difficulties. However, psychologists assert that many mental illnesses such as depression are usually hard for others to notice, and warn not to use only symptoms of mental health problems described in DSM as a way to determine one’s mental illness, as it should be accompanied with interview sessions and observation of their behaviors by a mental health professional.
- In a community where an individual has close ties to their families, people absorb the views of their families and form a collectivist identity. This allows mental health related stigma to persist. This is particularly prevalent in low-income regions in India where there is a lack of understanding about stress and mental health issues, which then interact with other issues such as coping with poverty, in addition to strong cultural beliefs.
What can we do?
While education is fundamental solution that can lead people to form non-discriminative attitudes towards people with mental illness and thus critical in eliminating the stereotypes so that it will be properly recognized as a medical condition, there exists a difficulty in educating such large populations. Especially in low-income communities, large proportions are affected but receive the least treatment. One of the most effective measures implemented to spread awareness about mental health issues to reduce the stereotype was educating people with visual aid booklet and inviting them to workshops and screening camps. Educating local rural citizens about symptoms, causes, treatments, and prognosis of mental illness. Exposeing the community to various mental illnesses and how to detect them and where to access the proper resources needed for treatment. This would prevent people from easily determining that they don’t have a mental illness, or hesitating from reaching for help.
Terms used in those education programs matter. A study suggested that by using lay language and commonplace perspectives on mental health, people were less likely to be reluctant to therapy for mental illnesses. By doing so, people understood that not all mental illnesses are severe and disturbing, and anyone has a possibility, opening them to a more acceptable position to mental illness.
In the comment, please let me know what do you think about these questions or share any other ideas you have
- Are there any widespread stereotypes towards people with mental illness?
- In your opinion, what measures could further be taken to break the stigma towards mental illness? How does your community respond to the stigma?